Hot Take: Visually enthralling, narratively dull. Eventually, even the visuals reach overload and the movie pot pie that is Alice Through the Looking Glass becomes possessed by other films.
Let’s start with the positive. Alice Through the Looking Glass is nowhere near the disaster it is being made out to be. People have been rooting against the follow-up to the overly successful and poorly received Alice In Wonderland since it was announced. (The details of Johnny Depp’s personal troubles and accusations of domestic violence surely didn’t sway the pitchforks and torches in another direction, either.) However, Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t one of the worst movies of 2016. It’s just not good.
The most positive thing to say about Alice Through the Looking Glass is visually, it is pretty cool for about an hour. Before realizing this movie is mostly sizzle and very little steak, the visuals are impressive. Even when you go to your favorite Mexican restaurant and order fajitas, eventually the smoke, smell and sound of your sizzling meal wears off and you want it to cool down so you can enjoy the taste. Unfortunately, that never happens with Alice Through the Looking Glass. The film continually devolves into a mixture of flashy visuals and celebrity cameos of characters you might have enjoyed in the first film.
What compounds the problem is Alice Through the Looking Glass‘s storyline which borrows from other films. It starts off with a dash of Pirates of the Caribbean and sprinkles in a little Terminator 2 (or is that Terminator: Genisys I taste?) and adds a dollop of Back to the Future. (Or is that The Time Machine?) There’s even a hint of Transformers and Harry Potter and maybe even a smidge of The Brady Bunch Movie. Then it appears all of these films were tossed in a casserole dish, glazed with the Lifetime Channel (Alice has issues with her mother and the Mad Hatter has issues with dear old dad.) before being nuked in the microwave. We end up with a gooey mess of reheated ideas starring Alice from Wonderland with cameo appearances from the Mad Hatter and the Wonderland All-Stars.
Who is the villain here, too? Is Alice (Mia Wasikowska) her own enemy? Surely, she’s being chased by Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) but she did steal from him after all. From the looks of things, he’ll die without what she took so can you blame him for hunting her down? The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is involved but it’s rather unclear if she’s more evil than victim. The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is the one who sends Alice on a suicide mission. Alice’s mother (Lindsay Duncan) does Alice no small favors by selling the family business out from under her to Hamish (Leo Bill). The Hatter (Johnny Depp) is probably the only character who isn’t part villain although that could be because he’s just there. As some sort of weird amalgamation of Depp characters, the Hatter is more sad than mad and the audience suffers most of all. If you still care by the end, you’re a better viewer than me as this film unravels to the point of tedium. Even the neat visuals get messy. The story loses it’s head and it never had much of a soul to begin with. Following Alice through the looking glass may be a journey you soon regret.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Visually Pleasing
At an estimated $170 million budget, the visuals better be great. Alice’s trips through time are trippy and her visit to see Time himself feels a little out there and they’re fun to watch.
- Mia As Alice and Girl Power
Mia Wasikowska delivers a solid performance as Alice despite a brutal script to work with. Maybe the script was better before it was wrapped around visuals that border on sensory overload. Underneath the heavy burden that is the script, Wasikowska has a few… ummm… wonderful moments. There’s also the underlying message of female empowerment that never gets muddled behind a strong male coming in to save the day. That’s a plus.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Where’s the Wonder In the Script?
Lewis Carroll’s Alice books have a lyrical, poetic quality to them. The lyrical, poetic moments in Alice Through the Looking Glass occasionally poke their head out of the sand but send too much time buried in fancy visuals and Depp’s mugging.
- Johnny Depp
This is one of Johnny Depp’s poorest performances. If at some point he broke the fourth wall and explained to us how the joke is on the writer, the director and Disney as this was a cash grab and he was sleepwalking through the role, it at least have an explanation.
- Anne Hathaway
They could have put a cardboard cut out of Hathaway in most of her scenes as the White Queen and accomplished more.