Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Good-Looking Mess: Why Alice Through The Looking Glass Fizzles!


The Good: Good effects, Moments of theme, Sacha Baron Cohen
The Bad: Dull plot, Obvious character work, A number of terrible or inconsistent performances
The Basics: Even Johnny Depp's occasional energetic performance cannot save the dismal Alice Through The Looking Glass from its own issues.


Summer Blockbuster Season is, predictably, chock full of sequels. One of the more anticipated and direct sequels to drop in 2016 is Alice Through The Looking Glass, which is a sequel to the live-action Tim Burton film Alice In Wonderland (reviewed here!). Alice Through The Looking Glass has the honor of being the final credited film for the late Alan Rickman and his very minor role in the film bookends his career in an unfortunately mediocre way.

Alice Through The Looking Glass is directed by James Bobin instead of Tim Burton and it reunites most of the cast of Alice In Wonderland. Bobin's work retains the look and feel of Burton's work, at least after its initial straightforward set-up. Alice Through The Looking Glass relies heavily upon information from the first film and stands poorly on its own, making it feel very much like a sequel. Like its predecessor, Alice Through The Looking Glass prioritizes style over substance for the bulk of the film.

Opening in 1874 in the Straits Of Malacca, Alice Kingsleigh is commanding her father's ship as it outruns pursuing pirates. Her skillful maneuvers allow her ship to escape and they return to London safely. In London, Alice discovers that Hamish now runs the company that sent her on the expedition to China and he leverages her boat and home against the young woman. After Hamish's maneuver to get Alice to surrender her ship, Alice follows a butterfly through a mirror to a drawing room in the sky through which she enters Underland. In the magical world of Underland, she learns that the Mad Hatter is not well . . . in a way that is inconsistent with his usual madness.

Meeting with the Hatter, Alice learns that when he found his very first paper hat, the Mad Hatter leapt to the conclusion that if the hat could survive the Jabberwockey attack, then his family must have survived as well. The White Queen, Mirana, sends Alice to Time to use the Chronosphere to rescue the Hatter's family on the day they die and return them to the future to make the Mad Hatter sane and well again. Time rejects Alice's request and when the Red Queen, Iracebeth, arrives, Alice uses the distraction to steal the Chronosphere. Persued by Time into the past, Alice attempts to save the Hatter's family and then prevent the accident which made Iracebeth into a villainess.

Alice Through The Looking Glass is predicated largely on the idea that Alice has a deep love for the Hatter that was hardly indicated in the prior film. The character leap that viewers are asked to take initially is that Alice would risk life, death and the temporal ramifications of time travel to help save the life and, relative, sanity, of the Hatter based on how she feels for him. That emotional bond is not developed in the two films well-enough to be a realistic motivation at the outset.

The film is dominated by style, so the initial problem with character is quickly matched by problems on the acting front. Mia Wasikowska plays Alice and she delivers lines that are strong and emphatic, while having a physical performance based on the same wide-eyed disbelief and uncertainty, which is a troubling acting choice. While she gets eye-lines right for her interactions with virtual characters, she fails to bring anything new or significant to the role of Alice with her acting.

The usually amazing Anne Hathaway is surprisingly bland as Mirana. Hathaway resumes the body language of her prior part, without having the wonderful, strange, off-putting detachment the character had in the first film. While Hathaway's vitality and range of emotional expression play well and fine for the scenes in the past, the scenes in the "present" stand out as problematically incongruent with the established character. Johnny Depp's performance is one of his most bland, with him simply blithely lisping through his lines. With the themes of distant fathers being explored in Alice Through The Looking Glass, Depp's performance seems troublingly derivative of his portrayal of Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (reviewed here!).

In fact, the most instantly energized performer in Alice Through The Looking Glass is Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen once again creates an entirely new and different persona for himself as Time. Cohen's Time is weird and awkward and he steals his scenes, even when they are not especially good. Cohen's Time quickly overshadows Helena Bonham Carter's Iracebe to draw the eye and capture the viewer's attention.

Amid lines that play off every cliche about time, Alice Through The Looking Glass tries to marvel the viewer with bright colors and generally-competent computer generated effects. The effects are one of the few things going for the film.

Unfortunately, it is not enough. Alice Through The Looking Glass attempts to blend past and present, reality and Underland, into a story that seeks to both reinvigorate wonder and illustrate the drastic consequences to attempting to chang time. It fails to satisfactorily impress or entertain viewers. The result is a good-looking mess that is a poor end to the legacy of Alan Rickman.

2/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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