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Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ is Weird

Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ is Weird
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They’re back, whether or not you wanted them!

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” from 2010 is an interesting creature to be sure.

On the one hand it is Burton’s biggest mainstream success, making over a BILLION dollars at the box office. On the other hand, while it got mixed responses from critics whenever I bring up the film to a majority of the people I know (not all) they don’t usually have the kindest words for it. In fact, when I told a friend of mine I was being sent to review the sequel he rolled his eyes. I think the original film was OK, very meh. I thought the first two thirds of the film were alright for the most part, but felt the ending didn’t really work and WASTED Sir Christopher Lee. So honestly I had NO idea how I’d feel about this new film, but still wanted to keep an open mind.

Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 3.5

I’ll just say that I was pretty excited for a Tim Burton directed “Alice In Wonderland” film, however one of my main complaints was the incredibly misleading title as it wasn’t at all an adaptation. It was a sequel to the famous story which was fine, but should have been called its own thing like Alice Returns or something to differentiate it from the original book. Much like how “Hook” did for “Peter Pan.” While this is also NOT an adaptation of “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which is rarely adapted in it’s entirety (they mostly just use a few chapters mixed in with other Alice in Wonderland adaptations), I was more prepared for the film doing something completely different. The story this time is Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is brought back to Wonderland (look I’ve called it that for 20+ years of my life I’m not about to start with Underland) at first just to try and cheer up the Mad Hatter who has become depressed after finding remnants of his deceased family from the first film and believes it means that they may actually be alive. When this fails the remaining good characters from the previous film tell Alice to visit Time (Sasha Baron Cohen) to get a device that could allow her to time travel to the past to help the Hatter get closure. Time refuses on the grounds that it would kill him and the universe, but Alice steals it anyway and goes hopping around time trying to fix things for the characters with Time hot on her trail. Also, The Red Queen is back just because… I guess they felt they had to.

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Sasha Baron Cohen shines as Time.

The acting is fine from all that the actors are asked to do. I actually liked Johnny Depp’s take on the Mad Hatter by having him randomly change personality which made him seem more… Mad. However, in this film other than the beginning, he’s very one note and basic. Alice seems more proactive in this (to the point the problems that arise in the story are actually her fault) and less just silently staring at everything like in the Burton movie (although in there it made some sense since she spends a majority of the film thinking it’s all a dream). Bottom line, this is one aspect some may actually enjoy more. Helena Bonham Carter returns as the Red Queen and does fine performance wise, but it’s more how they portray her character. They actually try to give her a tragic backstory and redemption arc, but it doesn’t work as the “tragic” backstory in no way makes up for what she does as a bad guy. Remember the Burton film where there was an entire moat full of the decapitated heads? Or you don’t even have to keep that in the back of your head this film reminds you it was her who sent the Jabberwocky to kill everyone. They even heavily imply that she killed the Knave of Hearts between films (to explain Crispin Glover’s absence), but they still expect you to feel sorry for her and accept her at the end. All of the other returning actors do fine, but are more just cameos. The highlight of the cast and maybe the entire film was Sasha Baron Cohen as Time. He has an interesting look and is consistently funny. I like how they give him all the villain signifiers yet do something interesting with him and the film’s message. However you’ll be able to figure out EXACTLY where they’re going with him in the beginning through some very obvious exposition.

What surprised me the most was the direction/cinematography and probably why this section is rated as high as it is. The director is James Bobin who did “The Muppets” and “Muppets Most Wanted” and while I enjoyed “The Muppets” quite a lot, it looked like a TV show that just happened to be in a theatre in it’s lighting and blocking. However, he really stepped up his game here as it has a much more cinematic look throughout. Following a visual master like Tim Burton would be a challenge for most any director, but Bobin really holds his own in this world.

Entertainment Value – 2.5

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RIP Alan Rickman’s final performance in a feature film.

The things I liked? As an art enthusiast I did enjoy the Red Queen’s new servants all looking like Giuseppe Arcimboldo paintings (for those who don’t know he’s the guy who did portraits of people with fruits and vegetables). I also thought the way they visualize time travel as going through an endless ocean that is both above and beneath you was a pretty striking visual. Danny Elfman’s score, while not great, is enjoyable and he seems to get more use out of the main theme this time around. It was nice to hear Alan Rickman’s voice one last time in a theatre, but unfortunately the dialog you hear in the trailer is about all he says in the film proper. Aside from those, the central issue with the film is that it requires you to have an emotional connection with the characters and I think they’re all too weird for that so for me it fell flat. In fact it just made me spend my time questioning the logic like how in the Burton film all of the humanoid characters are chalk-white? Alright, it makes Alice (someone from the real world) stand out as something different. But in this film we have entire villages filled with normal looking/acting people and in fact the only “white” people are the ones returning from the Burton film so… why are they white? At first it was a funny gag to see the Mad Hatter as the only one in his family portrait who has chalk-white skin, but once you realize they’re essential characters it begs for some kind of explanation. Especially when you consider the main signifier for a character dying in this world is getting more pale and losing all color.

There are a few specific references to the actual book. Like the 2010 film when Alice first arrives, it LOOSELY follows the book for a few minutes before getting into the main plot. There was also a part where I actually got kinda excited for a moment. Time is chasing Alice through the time stream and crashes into the past where the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Dormouse are having tea. He tries to question them about Alice, but they instead just make fun so in anger he stops time. If you read the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland book you’ll know this is an event described by the Mad Hatter and it was cool to see it visualized for the first time on-screen. However, they manage to botch it up by getting the details wrong as in the movie Time stops time at one minute before tea time and they can’t leave the table forever. It rather feels like the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films infected this movie a bit. I first got this vibe at the very beginning with Alice captaining a ship through a storm. I even wonder if it’s one of the same ships from those movies. However, what really cemented that idea for me was over complication of the plot. Many complained that the 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” was making the original Lewis Carroll story more complex than it ever needed to be. Well oh boy does this film double down on that aspect. We travel to the past then further in the past, then also have to follow other characters in different parts of the past, plus the wrap around story which includes a full character arc for Alice’s mother. Despite all of that I have to admit that the film itself is an easy sit, it’s paced well enough where I never felt the need to check the time which for me can often mean the difference between a film that I didn’t like (like this) and a film that I hate.

Rewatchability – 2

I have no plans to ever re-watch it again, but if the situation called for it there are far worse ways to waste 2 hours. I can even see myself maybe looking up some of the specific scenes that I liked (mostly the Sasha Baron Cohen ones) on YouTube.

  • Cinematics
  • Entertainment Value
  • Rewatchability

Summary

On the one hand I do feel like this is more of a case of me not being the target demographic for this film, but on the other hand this movie is WEIRD. I will certainly say if you disliked the first film this one will probably not change anything for you if in fact you'll probably dislike it even more. For those who enjoyed the first film, they'll most likely overlook the flaws as they are many of the same flaws of the original, but even with that said this film doesn't succeed as much as the 2010 film. Still James Bobin shows he can go toe to toe with Burton in the visual department and Sasha Baron Cohen shines as Time. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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About The Author

Eric

Eric grew up with a simple childhood. At age 11 a six fingered man murdered his father in front of his eyes, while his mother died defending him from an attack from a sharptooth, then an evil toon dropped a piano from 15 stories onto his brother's head and then on top of all of that while on the job he was brutally shot up and left for dead but was rebuilt as a robotic cop to get his revenge. ...Oooorr maybe he just watched a lot of movies growing up and got really into them. From a young age Eric realized learning things like science, math, people's names etc. took some real effort but could easily remember practically all the dialog/plot details from a random movie he watched on tv years ago. He knew from a young age that he wanted to make movies and never strayed from that. Going to college to get an education in film production and working on movie sets whenever it can be fit into his schedule. Get him into a room full of people he doesn't know and over time you may eventually get him to open up but just mention some movies and he'll talk for hours, never afraid to (respectfully) argue with fellow movie nerds. Now he puts that love and energy toward writing for FilmFad.com.

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David McClintock
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David McClintock

You might want to get another job. Your review disagrees with the overwhelming 5 star ratings reviews on Netflix AKA the free market. So your opinion is minority.

filmfadRyan
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filmfadRyan

First, thanks for your opinion. We actually share a mindset of taking reviews with a grain of salt since they are a subjective topic in general. But I wanted to address your views on Netflix’s rating system as the “free market” and how it actually works. Their review system is dynamically dependent upon demographics of people who share your tastes. That’s why you can see a review for a movie, show, etc with a different ranking on different accounts. They lump together like-minded accounts and create an average review system from that which is served to you. So it is… Read more »

David McClintock
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David McClintock

Netflix viewers “rate” shows and movies with 1-5 stars. You can see it if you log into Netflix.

filmfadRyan
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filmfadRyan

Right, but what “you” see are ratings from a select group of like-minded users that are more in line with your movie tastes. “You” aren’t seeing an average of what all Netflix users have rated the film, you’re only seeing an average of what that select group has rated the film. That’s why one person’s account can have a different rating for a film or show than another person’s account. Make sense?

David McClintock
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David McClintock

Netflix doesn’t group people. Your seeing everyone’s ratings no matter what their like mindedness or tastes. I’ve never seen another persons account have a different star rating on the same movie than my account.

filmfadRyan
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filmfadRyan

That’s my personal account and it has a 2.5 star rating…
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filmfadRyan
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filmfadRyan

Your response is conjecture as you provide no proof to counter the claim. Here’s proof…

http://bgr.com/2016/02/10/netflix-ratings-what-they-mean-how-they-work/

If you look through the mounds of help files and API logic tutorials they’ve provided you will find the same thing.

David McClintock
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David McClintock

Ok so your saying the red ratings everyone sees on movies are not taken collectively but selectively. Correct?

Eric Pace
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Eric Pace

Ignoring all the stuff about netflix. Your argument is that a critic is supposed to represent EVERYONE ELSE’S opinion?

David McClintock
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David McClintock

No. That’s your argument. That’s why your a critic right?

Eric Pace
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Eric Pace

How do you figure?

A critic’s only job is tell you what THEY thought and do their best job explaining why and from that the “free market” and decide if those reasons are something that they might agree with thus helping with their decision or non decision to see a movie.

To be perfectly honest with you, I couldn’t give less of a shit even IF my opinion is a minority on any film.

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