“The time has come,” the Walrus said, and how right he was. Seeing as everyone apparently loved it when Tim Burton missed the point of Lewis Caroll‘s classic Alice in Wonderland tale by turning it into a bland style-over-substance war movie/Narnia fanfic in 2011, I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone did the same to its sequel Through The Looking Glass. And sure enough, Time itself plays an important part, as does the concept of time travel. A lot of that in Fantasy media lately, isn’t there?
The fact is, though, Burton was only a producer on this one, with the direction done by James Bobin. This might explain why this one at least feels like a sincere attempt at emulating the feel of the original books, but they still put Johnny Depp in a Ronald McAnnie cosplay again and called that their “Mad Hatter” so it’s of little comfort. Besides, the screenwriter is still the same so I’ll let you do the math.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska, ever so stoic) is back and so is the world of Wonderland. I refuse to call it “Underland” being as that’s literally the most stupidly pointless idea anyone has ever had. Still attempting to make up for the fact that she has the character depth and emotional range of a Moai statue, she partakes in several action moments and does physically strong things because that’s all it takes to create a strong female character, right? No.
The story: Alice revisits Wonderland via magical mirror portal, and is asked to set out on a journey through time, to save the parents of the Mad Hatter (Depp) from their cruel and horrid deaths. The other residents of Wonderland – the late Alan Rickman‘s Blue Butterfly, Stephen Fry‘s Cheshire Cat, Anne Hathaway‘s White Queen and so forth – can tell that Hatter is in a state of grief by how mad he’s acting. Understandable enough, if I lived in the world of these movies, I too would think something is amiss if any character started acting the way they’re supposed to. To accomplish her mission, Alice needs to steal a device from a lord of Time played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who inhabits a body made from mostly clockwork and has an accent that several times made me worried that Cohen would break out into his Brüno persona.
Helena Bonham Carter is also back, louder than ever, as the barely-factoring Red Queen, or Icerabeth of Whatsit as the movie calls her, because lord knows, the one thing that kept me from liking the original book fully was not knowing what all the zany characters’ real names were. I wonder what Humpty-Dumpty was called before Alice’s time-travelling antics broke his mind and gave him verbal tics.
I’ll admit that many of the surreal images and scenes in Through The Looking Glass feel comparatively more “Caroll-esque” than the gloomy and flatly lit realm of palpable dullness we were treated to in the last film, which rarely had the same absurdity to it. Unfortunately, and as I established earlier, it isn’t of great redemption. It’s like saying Transformers 4 was completely and utterly atoned for by the fact that Peter Cullen and Frank Welker played the hero and the villain like in the 80’s cartoons. A ruthlessly bad film is just that; no matter what few things it gets mildly right as an “adaptation” of sorts.
But unlike Transformers, this isn’t the kind of bad movie that’s fun to write about; it is downright depressing. It makes me sad and disappointed how filmmakers expect people to buy into such a visually soulless, insipidly written and forgettable film purely on the grounds that it has enough computer-generated visuals (which are a clear case of “quantity over quality” either way) to fill 80% of its running time. My calculation may be off; an extra digit or so is likely missing.
The only thing that’s more depressing is the fact that it works. The imagery has shades of gothic aesthetic and it is surely going to appeal to millennials who fancy themselves too complex and damaged to be understood by us normie-conformists who won’t purchase wolf tattoos or cigarettes. I know people who have called the first Alice in Wonderland their favorite movie of all time, which makes me wonder what all those hundreds of films that have better performances, better effects, better characters, and an infinitely greater level of respect towards whatever source material it’s adapting than Alice must have done wrong. What is even the point of trying to make actual movies when most of Hollywood’s funding goes into tedious visual effects showcases that only occasionally resemble films and are exclusively about making an even greater amount of money back? It’s not like the VFX artists, the ones who do the heavy lifting, get to go home with a huge slice of the it (let alone a decently sized one).
If you like these films, more power to you. But there’s no dancing around the fact that you’re not an Alice in Wonderland fan if you do so. You’re a fan of whatever it was that Burton was making and has now been carried over to people who care slightly more than him in some areas and even less in others. But really, it doesn’t matter. If you can love a movie that spends more time on throwing as much boring CG imagery on the screen as possible and less on creating even one likable character or authentic moment of suspense, all because Danny Elfman‘s music is furiously telling you that what’s happening in front of your eyes is more awe-inspiring than it actually is, you’ll be fine.
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”