'Alice Through the Looking Glass' review: Five years too late, this sequel proves less is more
Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland was something of an accidental hit.
It had released right after Avatar, where audiences were introduced to ‘new and cool’ 3D movies, and Johnny Depp was at the peak of his career. So everyone went to see the film in droves. Six years on, special effects heavy movies are a dime a dozen, Depp is no longer a huge star, and 3D is generally considered poison. So it’s weird that Alice Through the Looking Glass comes so late, and it’s unfortunate that it is significantly less interesting than the previous film.
This time Alice (once again played by Mia Wasikowska) returns from her tenure as a ship captain but is shocked to know that she’s been duped into becoming a desk clerk. She escapes this problem by walking through the magic mirror into Underland where she gets to know the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is clinically depressed because he’s lost his family. To get to the bottom of this Alice decides to steal a time traveling device from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and inadvertently learns about the past history of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
The problem with the sequel is that it feels like more of the same, and the uninspiring story doesn’t really take the world of Underland into any more interesting magical locations. The production design and the visual effects were what made Burton’s film watchable but this time under James Bobin’s direction feels rote and tedious.
In an effort to bring back characters from the original film the scenes in Through The Looking Glass feel crowded and mostly incoherent. And with the barrage of visual effects in nearly every scene of the film it gets claustrophobic to the point you wish for the ‘less is more’ style of filmmaking.
The other problem is that Depp’s Mad Hatter is neither funny nor charming but irritatingly cartoonish. And since the whole film hinges on his character it becomes quite difficult to find any entertainment value. Why should one care about a movie whose central character is so boring? Also, Wasikowska in the last few years has starred in a string of films with similar character traits (Stoker, Crimson Peak etc) so her performance as ‘the chosen one in a mansion’ no longer feels fresh.
The subplot of the conflict between the Red and White queens seems like it belongs in a far more interesting movie and one wishes Through the Looking Glass focused more on that aspect of the script instead of shoving Depp’s annoyingly made up face in our faces. The fact that Depp’s character is actually not very involved in his own rescue in the film brings up the question that a lot was changed on the edit table to make the film more about the star.
Ultimately this is a sequel that arrived five years too late, and brings nothing fascinating to audiences who have mostly forgotten the previous movie. This is a rare misstep from Disney whose other films lately have been of super high quality. And if the previous movie was at the advent of 3D, I wish this sequel signals the end of it.