Movie review: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' tries to cover its narrative flaws with visual spectacle
Posted May 28, 2016
“ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS” — 2½ stars — Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen; PG (fantasy action/peril and some language; in general release
Alice Kingsleigh has returned to Wonderland in “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the follow-up to Tim Burton’s liberal 2010 adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” by author Lewis Carroll.
We catch up with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) at the tail end of three years exploring the world in her father’s old ship, The Wonder. She’s the picture of confidence, leading her ship through treacherous waters to escape a fleet of pursuing pirates. But when she finally returns to London, she finds her old would-be husband Hamish (Leo Bill) threatening to repossess her mother’s home unless Alice signs over her beloved ship.
Torn by affection and loyalty, Alice finds a temporary way out when a magic mirror transports her back to Underland (the Wonderland of Burton's interpretation), where she reconnects with several old friends, including Tweedledee, Tweedledum (both Matt Lucas) and Mirana the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Though happy to see her, they bear bad news: the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is mortally ill. For years, he has believed his family was killed by the Jabberwocky. But a new piece of evidence has him convinced otherwise, and it's slowly driving him into a delirious mania.
Alice resolves to save her old friend by securing a device called the Chronosphere from the Lord of Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, peering through CGI-enhanced steely blue eyes that would make Derek Zoolander blush). Her plan is to travel back in time to save the Hatter’s family.
It’s a simple plan that proves to be anything but, as the Lord of Time has no intention of giving up the Chronosphere. And to make matters worse, the Red Queen Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) is also after the device, convinced it will let her fix her own dysfunctional past and attain the glory she believes she’s always deserved.
It’s a little hard to accept the idea of Alice risking the space-time continuum over her friend’s broken heart, but you have to be willing to set a lot of logic aside for a fairy tale such as this one. “Alice Through the Looking Glass” definitely rebuts the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” Wrath of Khan brand of hero philosophy, though even Kirk eventually risked it all for his buddy Spock.
Anyway, James Bobin — who has taken over the director chair from Burton — isn’t so much interested in locking you into the story as shuttling you around a dazzling world full of myriad CGI creations. Every visit to a different corner of Underland is painstakingly detailed — and of course available in 3-D — but none is as cohesive or impressive than the clock motif of the Lord of Time’s domain.
It’s an impressive spectacle, even if Depp’s computer-enhanced eyes and Bonham Carter’s comically large head are a bit too creepy and distracting for their own good. But unfortunately, even the time-traveling plot eventually takes a backseat to the CGI work as the film builds to its inevitable climax.
It may not justify the ticket price by itself, but fans will appreciate the opportunity to hear the late Alan Rickman in action once again, performing the voice of the blue butterfly Absolem in a brief cameo.
It’s just one of several individual parts that manage to entertain but can’t quite put this Humpty Dumpty of a movie together, leaving “Alice Through the Looking Glass” as a fun but quickly forgettable feature.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some language; running time: 113 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.