Alice: Through the Looking Glass and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 have a lot in common. Both are largely unwanted sequels, based on iconic source material that the film makers either don’t respect or understand. Oh dear, I’ve given the game away. I didn’t like Alice: Through the Looking Glass and I freely admit, some of that is to do with having read and thoroughly enjoyed the original source material. However, a lot of my key issues with the film lie with its film making. But enough of that for now. Let’s dive in to the story.
The titular Alice is played by the wooden doll wishing to be human Mia Wasikowska. She is a successful and courageous sea captain. Unfortunately for her, she lives in Victorian England and men (henceforth known collectively as “The Man”) don’t respect her. While Alice’s mother constantly reminds her about her soon to be shriveled womb, The Man try to take her ship away and make her work as a clerk. Alice gets upset, runs into an old friend and jumps through a mirror, returning to Wonderland. On arrival she’s told that the Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed because he thinks his family, who were apparently killed by the Jabberwockey, are still alive and no one believes him. Alice journeys to the Palace of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to borrow the chronosphere which will allow her to travel through time and save the Hatter’s family and thus the Hatter himself. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is there too and she also wants the chronosphere to prove her sister ate some tarts and… this is way too much plot for an Alice in Wonderland movie.
Yes, much like the first Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland, we are given an epic fantasy style plot that is totally inappropriate to the setting. In the original text, Alice has a goal but her journey isn’t comprised of high adventure, but the Lewis Carroll style of unreasonable silliness. Wonderland was a caricature of real life principles and ideas, showing just how silly reality was. In this film however, the caricatures are in reality and, barring a few lines from Sacha Baron Cohen, the characters in Wonderland are reasonable.
While there is a sort of role reversal in the relationship between the real world and Wonderland, there is also very little narratively connecting the two in this movie. Both world’s have a discussion of time but they are talking largely about two different aspects of time that don’t interact with each other during the course of this movie. They also fail to provide any satisfying insights into either and in both cases, the film undercuts the messages that they were trying to get across. Wonderland’s plot is mostly delving into the back stories of the characters, the lessons from which don’t really apply to Alice’s real world situation.
Despite the complete lack of understanding demonstrated by director James Bobin and the screenwriter Linda Woolverton, you could probably enjoy the film on some level if it looked nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t. Most of the time the CGI looks good for a PS4 game, which is a compliment to PS4 graphics but not so much to a cinema release. Other times it’s reminiscent of Sharkboy and Lava Girl. There are few real sets or characters in this film which results in proceedings having very little weight at all. It does make me question why the film is live action in the first place. Yes the first one is live action but it didn’t make sense then either. This did come from Disney after all. The company that rules over animation with an iron fist. If they made this animated it could have had the potential to be visually stunning rather than what it is now.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sacha Baron Cohen was surprisingly fun. When I was told that Sacha Baron Cohen was playing the concept of time I gave up on life. I didn’t get out of bed in the mornings and spent my days writing villinelles about Sacha Baron Cohen’s obnoxious comedy. But fair is fair. I saw this movie and at the end of it I said to myself that out of all the cast, he was the closest to capturing the true essence of Lewis Carroll’s work. Well done, Mr. Cohen. Secondly… secondly… sec-ond-ly…SECONDL- I really can’t think of anything else. Barring Cohen, all the performances really aren’t up to scratch, sometimes because of the actor other times because of the script and direction. Just because your performance is over the top, does not mean it is automatically good in a Lewis Carroll movie. Mostly, however, it is that characters have not been given anything to do which further intensifies the issues create by the overused green screen. Thus, we have ended up with a film where neither the sets, nor the characters are really there. The film feels lifeless.
The film is so off point that there is nothing else in it that was either entertaining or true to the spirit of Carrol’s work. I know I badgered on about how different this is to the book. I understand that an adaptation must make changes. I said so in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows review. But I also said that changes need to be justifiable and when the entire spirit of a text is changed in adaptation I feel that it can no longer be considered justifiable.
Overall, Alice: Through the Looking Glass is a clumsily assembled, lifeless film that doesn’t respect it’s source material cashing in on the shocking level of success of the first film.