Alice Through the Looking Glass is a collection of pretty pictures, great VFX (lovely 3D!) and a handful of moving moments, a few good laughs and some genuine wit – all enshrouded in many, many, many moments that threaten an unexpected bout of nap attack.
I was among the minority of critics who loved Alice In Wonderland – with Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp directed by Tim Burton – so I was looking forward to the sequel (which isn’t actually based on Lewis Carroll’s book).
It starts promisingly enough – Alice (Wasikowska) is captaining a trading vessel as it’s being chased by Chinese ships. She performs a crazy maneuver to escape them and returns to London. Unfortunately, problems await…
Short version: while she was gone, Alice’s mother (Lindsay Duncan) sold the family shares in the trading company and either she signs over the ship to the guy whose marriage proposal Alice rejected in the first movie, or they lose their family home.
While Alice is trying to think of options, a blue butterfly – that turns out to be Absolem (Alan Rickman) leads her to a mirror and voice informs her that the Hatter (Depp) is in potentially fatal trouble. Alice leaps through the mirror just before Hamish (Leo Bill), the rejected suitor, and others can gain entry into the room.
In Underland, she discovers that Hatter has gone even madder – darkly so. He believes his family – whom he’d thought destroyed by the Jabberwocky – is still alive. As proof he offers the first hat he ever made – found on the ground nearby.
The only way to save his family, she believes, would be to travel into the past and prevent the Jabberwocky from killing them. To this end, she borrows the Chronosphere – a device that powers time itself – from Time himself (Sasha Baron Cohen).
Of course the past can’t be changed but Alice has to find out the hard way – unearthing a secret that led to the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Leilah de Meza) becoming the big headed oddity she is. It’s a secret that makes The White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Amelia Crouch) look a little less saintly.
All of the CG characters from the first film are back, though they don’t get as much screen time as they deserve – replaced by some cleverly steampunk flunkies of Time’s (only one of which is actually more than a collection of metal parts).
What makes Looking Glass so tedious is the way that Alice never lets Time explain himself and rushes off to different periods in the past to change things but winds up, in at least one case, hastening them. Despite the beautiful costuming, set decoration and VFX, each episode goes on too long and the characters suffer – everyone is so intent on going that there’s no real attempt at characterization: Alice is Strong and Headstrong; the Hatter is Mad and Madder; The Red Queen is louder; The White Queen is swishier, etc.
The only character to really stand out is Time. Cohen gets the one character who has something more than a single driving characteristic and, though even Time is underwritten (lots of witty banter goes on around him in one of the few sequences that really clicks), Cohen commits so thoroughly to the character that we feel his pain and exasperation; his love and his relief.
And despite later scenes mirroring earlier ones (Alice steering the Chronosphere through a collapsing wave of time is almost beat for beat the same sequence as her guiding her ship through shallow waters in the opening sequence) – usually a clever device – it, too, just goes on far too long.
It’s really a shame that Alice Through the Looking Glass is the last film released to feature Alan Rickman in any form (though he recorded his part well before doing the excellent Eye in the Sky) – though it’s classy that the film is dedicated to him.
At a hair over two hours, Looking Glass is fifteen minutes too long. Director James Bobin (The Muppets) somehow manages to makes the usually brilliant Wasikowska dull (except for the opening sequence – one of the two best parts of the film) and seems more interested in composing cool shots than telling a story (however thin the story might be).
The person I saw it with dozed off a couple of times. I almost followed suit. That says it all.
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Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.