REVIEW: Alice Through The Looking Glass
Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
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There are just too many things going on…
The second instalment of the Alice In Wonderland franchise, Alice Through The Looking Glass has been a lightning rod for criticism from day one. Admittedly, the Tim Burton original left a lot to be desired, and so the announcement of a follow-up had many sceptics putting their judge hat on long before production even began. This time around, Burton has opted for the producer’s chair, handing the torch to director, James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted). While Bobin does a stellar job with the source material, it’s unfortunately not quite enough to pull it from the wreckage of the first.
This time around, we see Alice kicking arse and taking names as a headstrong, self-assured sea captain, travelling to strange lands on her deceased father’s vessel, The Wonder. Alice has become confident and daring since her last trip to the Underland, which vexes her mother and the establishment of weak-chinned men that she must answer to in 1800s London. During a difficult financial situation between her mother and a powerful rival family, Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland – this time through a looking glass – to find The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) in a horrible state. She must save her friends from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), a half-clockwork, half-human, omnipotent demigod who has the ability to travel back and forth through different time periods with a special device secreted in a gold-coloured chromosphere. The chromosphere has the power to both save and destroy Underland, and Alice is faced with making emotionally difficult choices.
The plot is highly complex, and ultimately too complex. While screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, should be applauded for taking a risk here, the film ends up feeling shallow and unresolved. The characters, for example, arrive at their emotional breakthroughs far too easily and seemingly at random, which feels hackneyed and forced. This is, of course, all happening within the larger convoluted “time” plot line, where the characters are contending with very intricate ideas with little time to actually explore them.
Mia Wasikowska brings a fabulous level of maturity to Alice the second time around, giving her character a lot of depth, charisma, and humour despite the dourness of the plot. She also makes interesting choices in her role which – without giving anything away – really pay off. Depp’s Hatter is as alluringly zesty and mercury-poisoned as ever. His ability to add intense emotional mystery and unique physical inflections to his characters is never tiring to watch, but even he gets lost in the jumbled plot and overly-done green screen swampland. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter steal the show though; their confident and commanding on-screen presence definitely gets them noticed, and Baron Cohen in particular is simply hilarious even when serious. Their characters, however, are sadly given little opportunity to really shine. And that’s the real problem with this film. There are just too many things going on, and as a result everything is skimmed over.
The look and feel of Alice Through The Looking Glass, however, is terrific. Bobin takes calculated risks and commands more meaningful, engaging performances from his ridiculously skilled cast. But the complexity and superficiality of the plot, along with the over-produced and cheesy fantasy world inherited from Burton (sorry, Tim), result in the whole thing feeling a bit like skim milk, or worse, soy.