Review: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ is Weird
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.
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
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.
- Entertainment Value
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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