Mark Reviews Movies

Alice Through the Looking Glass


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Bobin

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway, Rhys Ifans, Matt Lucas, Lindsay Duncan, Leo Bill, Geraldine James, Andrew Scott, Richard Armitage, Ed Speleers, the voices of Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Paul Whitehouse, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Michael Sheen, Matt Vogel, Paul Hunter, Wally Wingert

MPAA Rating: PG (for fantasy action/peril and some language)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 5/27/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 26, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass is a needless sequel that at least gets some points for imaginative effort. The tale breaks free of Lewis Carroll's books to an even further extent than the previous movie, and it plays out partly as a series of origin stories for the characters and partly as an adventure in time travel. The endeavor works better in theory than in practice.

That's primarily because director James Bobin and screenwriter Linda Woolverton continue upon the iffy groundwork established by the screenwriter and director Tim Burton in 2010's Alice in Wonderland. That movie was also effective in the way it presented Carroll's world and characters, although it, too, stumbled in the way the movie took the author's nonsensical, absurd foundation and re-imagined it as a generic fantasy adventure. The hook of the sequel's plot, at least, is far more intriguing than the first movie's bland "Wonderland at war" one. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) must confront the inevitability of pain that comes with time and the inability to do anything about it.

The theme, then, is loss. In the real world, Alice's father has died, leaving her with his ship the Wonder. The movie's opening sequence features her at work as captain of the vessel—outrunning pirates, devising a tricky maneuver through shallow water, and, when the men of her crew can't get the job done, otherwise taking matters into her own hands. The movie announces right away that this older, more experienced Alice is not the mere wanderer and observer from the first movie. She has more control over her life and what she wants to do with it, which is also an improvement over the previous movie. Her philosophy, which she states to rally a skeptical crew member, is that a thing is only impossible because no one has tried to do it.

Upon Alice's arrival home to London, Woolverton's screenplay proceeds to chip away at that control. Alice's mother (Lindsay Duncan) has signed over her home to Hamish (Leo Bill), the man whose marriage proposal Alice rejected and who now runs the shipping firm for which she works. The only way to get the house back is for Alice to turn over her father's ship to the jilted man.

While hiding away in Hamish's study, Alice finds her way back to Underland by traveling through a mirror. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is not as mad as usual, on account of the memory of his lost family. The residents of the world want Alice to cure him, although, given her own experience with death, she is doubtful of the idea. Ultimately, she devises a plan to steal a time-travel device from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, sounding like Werner Herzog), go to the past, and save Hatter's family from the dreaded Jabberwocky.

Before the character and the plot device he represents become an excuse for, respectively, an antagonist and a series of chase sequences, the material involving Time and his lair is some potentially heady and involving stuff. Here, Time is an impassive figure, unconcerned with and barely aware of the lives of those under his dominion—until the moment when that time and life are finished.

Within his palace, which sits at the center of plateaus that form the face of a clock when looking down on the landscape (Because the movie can't rest with just spectacle, Alice must jump between and run across the moving hands of the massive clock), are two rooms. Both contain pocket watches—each one representing the life of a resident of Underland. He takes one from the room of the living, closes its lid, and brings the stopped watch into the room of the dead.

It's an eerie scene, but it's also one that doesn't matter in the bigger picture of the movie. Once Alice steals Time's Chronosphere, she moves further and further into the past amid the seas of time—one below her and one above her. That, too, is an impressive visual, but again, Bobin and Woolverton can't leave it at that. Time gives chase, leading to sequences of the two weaving between and flying through the waves of the sea. It's fascinating to observe how such inspired concepts can be rendered almost meaningless when action sequences are imposed upon them. The same happens to Time's palace, which becomes the setting for a climactic race against the encroaching, rusty destruction of the universe.

The plot has Alice going to significant events of the lives of key Underlandians, meaning the movie exists mostly explain things such as how the Hatter became a hatter, what happened to make the Red Queen's (Helena Bonham Carter) head become so big, and why the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) has a soft spot for her decapitation-happy sister. None of it really matters, of course, because the movie is only building off the hollow eccentricity of these characters that was established in its predecessor.

It's all pretty hollow, really, although that's not for a lack of trying. Alice Through the Looking Glass has a solid foundation of ideas that turns out to be just an excuse for trivial world-building and frantic action.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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