Alice Through the Looking Glass
Directed by James Bobin
Opens May 27
If Alice Kingsleigh’s (Mia Wasikowska) great enemy in Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland was the staid middle-class lifestyle that threatened to crush her feminist wiles and overall sense of child-like wonder, her nemesis in James Bobin’s sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, is broader and more universal: time. Actually, it’s not just the concept itself that isn’t on her side, but a literal figure (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) who controls a great big clock in the Underland sky and keeps track of when people die. An awareness of mortality, then, is the main thrust of screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s reimagining of Lewis Carroll this time around, one that leads Alice, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and others to travel back in time, with the help of Time’s Chronosphere gadget, in order to redress long-held grievances and regrets: daddy issues in the Mad Hatter’s case, sibling issues in the Red Queen’s.
One might assume that such mature themes would lead to a relatively mature film. But it’s rather amazing how deeply unfelt Alice Through the Looking Glass is. At least a sliver of Burton’s personality managed to trickle out of his Alice, with his usual feeling for lonely outsiders adding some emotional heft to the CGI grotesqueries. But though Woolverton’s script for this sequel pays a lot of heavy-handed lip service to its big themes, there’s no soul to any of it: not in its wholly unsurprising plot twists (who woulda thunk Alice’s attempts to change the past would have dangerous consequences in the present?); not in its noisy action set pieces; and certainly not in the performances, with Depp as irritatingly externalized as ever, and Carter dialing up the shrill villainy to 11.
In fact, this second Alice as a whole smacks of filmmakers trying too hard. So busy is it attempting to entertain that even its occasional good ideas—most memorably, Bobin’s imaginative visualization of Time’s lair, which includes two different rooms marking the living and the dead, each person represented by a watch suspended from the sky—get crushed by the blaring excess. It doesn’t help that Alice Through the Looking Glass ultimately resolves its thematic threads in the most pat and platitudinous ways possible. Maybe Burton, Bobin, Woolverton & co. should quit trying to find logic in a universe that was never meant to have any in the first place.