It's pretty, but it’s not very witty and you probably won’t mind being late for this (not so) important date
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Time, the bizarre and unnecessary villain of Alice Through the Looking Glass proclaims that “Wonderland - your time is up!”He’s most likely right, at least in terms of this particular iteration of the Wonderland universe. Or at least I hope he is. Alice Through the Looking Glass comes six years after the original fantasy film, helmed by Tim Burton. I say “original” – that film bore little resemblance to the classic Lewis Carroll books, and instead took Carroll’s characters and placed them in a new, zany (read: Burton-esque) world. This new film, directed by James Bobin, bears even less resemblance to the source material and even lacks any residual charm or whimsy that might have been knocking around in the 2010 film.In the years following the events of the first film, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has been travelling the world and sailing the high seas. Almost immediately upon her return home, she is summoned to Underland, where her old friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) needs her help. Hatter is even more mad than usual, and insists that his presumed-dead family are actually alive. In order to stop her “truest friend” from dying of a broken heart, Alice must revisit the past and try to find out what happened to the Hatter clan, confronting the supposedly formidable enemy Time in the process.
In many ways, most of the components from Burton’s film are present here, as the whole whimsical gang returns, including Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry and the late great Alan Rickman. The main positives from the first film were the stunning visuals, impressive effects and a scene-stealing turn from Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. All that is present here again, and yet it just doesn’t click and the end result is a film that somehow manages to be both garishly vibrant and achingly dull at the same time.
There are a lot of bright and beautiful visuals, but without much in the way of narrative to support them, the constant bursts of colour and light become grating pretty quickly. Character motivations aren’t always clear, and when they are they’re frequently so ludicrous that it seems too far-fetched for even Wonderland (I’m thinking particularly of the crummy origin of the rift between the Red and White Queens).
The film is not only disconnected from its predecessor, but it’s also so far from the Carroll universe that the supporting players (Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Absolum, the Cheshire Cat) become mere signposts in a confusing world of nonsensical colour, rather than standalone and three-dimensional characters in their own right. The film seems to be altogether more interested in assaulting your senses and using every penny of the effects budget, rather than investing any time in character development, useful dialogue or linear/understandable narrative.
There are bright and beautiful visuals, but without much in the way of narrative to support them, they become grating pretty quickly.
There are some spectacular computer generated effects, and the costumes, landscapes and props (check out the tea party table’s delights) are stunning. But I do feel that you need to be either young enough or high enough to get by on these psychedelic visuals alone. Similarly, the performances from Depp and Bonham Carter are entertaining, but can’t possibly do enough to salvage the entire piece.
I don’t think many people were hankering for a sequel to the Burton film, and as it turns out Tim had the right idea in not returning for the sequel. As far as I can see there isn’t much that’s salvageable in this current ‘Alice’ universe, and if Disney want a profitable franchise going forward it might be worth doing the Hollywood thing and rebooting the entire thing (but keeping Bonham Carter, of course). Carroll claimed that we’re all mad, but surely no one’s mad enough to sit through another one of these films jam-packed with flashy visuals and barely a crumb of narrative to be seen?
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