The release of the 2010 live action “Alice in Wonderland” was a huge success financially, but was one of those movies that I was automatically turned off by.There were plenty of reasons behind that, but the movie still classified as a giant hit. It seemed fairly logical for a sequel to follow, but will people be interested, nearly six years on from the original?
The main character Alice (Mia Wasikawska) is now all grown up and a Captain of her father’s old ship. She’s a pretty bad ass Captain at that too. But with her turning away the man she was due to be wed with, he plots a takeover of everything she and her family has. In an attampt to escape this bleak reality (and who could blame her, it was Edwardian times after all), she jumps through a looking glass and back into Wonderland. A story relating to the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has her tasked with going back in time to save his family, and return him to his.. well, insane self.
Let me begin with a disclaimer for why I will not be talking about nearly the majority of side characters – because they essentially play no part in the story and have no arcs to their characters to speak of. There’s no point in bringing them up individually because honestly, there is nothing to say.
So instead, let’s begin with the primary new character who is Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), who oversees everything with the passing and safekeeping of time itself. I’ll give points to the design of this little world, since it does look pretty cool, and the initial introduction to Time was not bad either. He’s such a self-centred, full-of-himself prick that in contrast to everything else I had to enjoy it on some front. Sadly though this shtick doesn’t change that much, so the fun wears thin pretty quickly. At least he’s not wearing any shit on his face, just think of him as the EuroSaver version of Doctor Strange. Even his ship is a pile of junk.
As for the Mad Hatter, I do appreciate what they were trying to do by giving him something to actually do, but Christ, that face paint looks even worse in 2016 than it did in the first film. I just can’t get past it, it is AWFUL. There’s something to go towards the fact that he doesn’t break dance here, but it seems they sucked out any of the fun from him in an attempt to not do something dumb again. More on that later.
Alice is actually not bad at all here, her opening scene is rather okay (despite the best efforts of the shoddy CG), and Mia is a good enough actress to take hold of the scenes for herself so that at the least, there’s not much to say bad about her performance. Again, her role is more direct than just being a journey through the bizzare and unknown, and again, more on that later.
So to recap the good points – the opening’s kind of cool, I like the idea of the land where Time resides, there’s some funny moments scattered through, the main performance is acceptable, there’s no moments of embarrassment, no annoying side characters, and it overall feels a bit more grown up.
And that last point, is where this all starts to kind of crumble apart. In their attempt to make it feel a bit more “mature”, they have sapped all the craziness and randomness out of everything. There’s only a handful of scenes that are set up for humour such as the Tea Party, but the funny is not running through the landscape like it was in the first film. And what the hell is the point in a movie set in Wonderland that doesn’t feel batshit nuts??? … I know it’s a strange thing for me to say when I didn’t like the first film, but the serious tone in the story lines for the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter were so dull.
I honestly can’t think about what they were thinking here, the pendulum (hah, first and only time pun I will make) doesn’t have to swing wildly from one extreme to the other. They could have struck a happy balance and maybe, built something that had the focused story, but crammed with the randomness. The side characters have next to nothing to do, and the pace keeps slowing down to a crawl. The attempt to try and give emotional resonance to the Mad Hatter just didn’t work for me in the way it should have, it felt like such a middling plot device to use when they could have chosen well… anything they dreamt of.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass” is an example of how drastically altering the tone of a sequel, can lead to similarly dull results even if their intentions were to shake things up for the better. For Disney to pump so much money into this and let it slide to becoming so mundane is a deep disappointment. There’s so little of the splendour of Wonderland, and not enough meat to the story lines to carry either aspects, or have them co-exist happily. I can’t tell if fans of the first movie will like this or not. I suspect that the changes will ruffle many a feather. In the same year we got the wonderful live adaptation of “The Jungle Book”, this feels like a poor reflection of that which it was trying to imitate.
Thanks for reading!