Adapting Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice’s adventures in Wonderland is not an easy task as those original stories have no real plot; Alice follows a white rabbit down a hole, she meets wacky and weird characters, and then Alice wakes up as it was all a dream. Not much to hang a movie one, but many have tried over the years. In 1951 Walt Disney did a fully animated version that stayed rather faithful to the source material, and it is a gorgeous movie, but alas I found it to be rather boring as what is quirky and fun on the page doesn’t necessarily translate to film. In 2010 the brilliantly imaginative Tim Burton gave it a try only instead of adapting the book he just lifted characters and scenery from the world of Lewis Carroll and not much else. That version of Alice in Wonderland went on to make a billion dollars worldwide so the only surprising thing about Alice Through the Looking Glass is that it took six years to get here.
The movie begins as we see Captain Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and her ship’s crew battling a storm in the China Sea while, also trying to outrun several pirate ships. Alice tells her helmsmen to steer for the rocks, and her crew to rig the ship with full sails, in the hopes that this will allow their ship to thread the needle among the jagged rocks. She is told what she is trying to do is impossible, but this is Alice and she tries to do six impossible things before breakfast. Of course her plans works and the day is saved, but what shocked me was this that wasn’t a dream sequence. I’m all for female empowerment but what 17th century crew would sign on with a young woman as captain? I know this is a fantasy film but I always assumed the fantastical elements would remain in Wonderland and not dominate the framing device. We learn that she has been exploring the world on her late father’s ship for three years and after seeing this movie I think I’d rather have seen a film about those three years instead. Just exactly how did Alice win over the crew of her ship? Sure women have captained ships in the past but those were pirates, now a movie where Alice would follow in the steps of Ann Bonny, or the Chinese pirate queen Cheng I Sao, would have been something I could have got behind, but instead we get “Tea Time” with a load of immensely tired characters.
When Alice returns to London she discovers that her ex-fiancé, Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill), has taken over his father’s company and that her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has sold him all their shares in the company to him. If Alice doesn’t sign over her ship as well they will lose their home. Does anyone care about this stuff? In the last movie we saw her mother being hopelessly bitchy and Hamish being terribly drippy, so did we really need to see more of this? It is the worst kind of forced conflict, and something certainly not needed here. This motivates Alice to follow the butterfly (Alan Rickman) to a study, through the looking glass, and back into Underland. All this because just wanting to visit such an amazing place isn’t motivation enough. Now when she gets there she finds all her friends gathered around in a group pity party because the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is sad. Apparently the Mad Hatter had an epiphany that his presumed dead family are still alive and now he wants Alice to save them. Alice, knowing that they are dead, tells him, “That is impossible.” Hearing Alice say that word, a word we earlier heard her say she hated, makes him conclude that she can’t be “His Alice” and proceeds to carry on with his dying of sadness.
The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) informs Alice that she must consult Time Himself (Sacha Baron Cohen), gain possession of the Chronosphere, and travel back in time to save the Hatter’s family from the Jabberwocky. Even though she is told by the living embodiment of time that you can’t change history, and that any attempt to do so could result in the very destruction of the world itself, she steals the device and escapes through time anyway. Once again we have a hero risking the lives of many for her own selfish needs. Sure friendship and family is important, but so is learning to let go and move on with your life. For me Time is the hero of this movie and Alice is the villain, but no director James Bobin thinks her actions are noble, and so we get the villainous Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) showing up because she also wants the Chronosphere so that she can use it to regain control of Underland. Due to the time travelling element we also learn why she hates her sister and how she got such a large head.
As if going back in time to learn the origins of characters we don’t actually care about was bad enough the movie then takes a detour when Alice must escape Time, who has been valiantly trying to stop her from destroying the world, back to her boring real world. She is shocked to find out that she has been committed to an insane asylum because she’d been found in Hamish’s study raving about crazy things like chronospheres and mad hatters. Is Alice actually crazy and all we’ve seen of Underland is just a delusion of hers? Of course not, this scene is here because one of the writers must have been a fan of Zack Synder’s Suckerpunch. I can’t think of any other reason because after Alice escapes the asylum this moment in the film is never addressed again.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is guilty of being a lethargic uninteresting mess that fails to engage us in any of the goings on of it’s characters, and though directed by James Bobin and only produced by Tim Burton the style over substance many of Burton’s film suffer from is on full display here. Worse is that where the previous film had some stunning visuals to help us forget the plot made no sense this time out even the look of the film isn’t all that special. The cast mostly look bored, the non CGI cast that is, and Alice as a character never manages to gain our sympathy. I don’t think there is much danger of us getting a third adventure with Alice, or at least I pray there isn’t.
• Seriously, how did Alice manage to find a crew that would accept a girl captain?
• Please stop giving origin stories to classic characters.
• Why is the White Queen just hanging out with the gang? Doesn’t she have kingdom to run?
• The time travel segment subjects us to Muppet Baby versions of our characters.
• You can’t change the past, but you can go back and destroy all time itself. Okeydokey.
• The Queen somehow forgets she has an army when she and the gang race off to confront the Red Queen.
• This was Alan Rickman’s last movie. *sigh*