“Alice Through The Looking Glass” – A Waste of Time

Written by Matt Butler June 02, 2016


Alice Through the Looking Glass is all about delusion. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) deludes himself into believing his family, widely accepted as burned alive, is really alive, despite having next to no evidence. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) deludes herself into believing she can steer her trading ship narrowly between two large rocks, despite the two massive rocks. And the cast and crew of Alice Through the Looking Glass delude themselves into believing they’re telling a story of persecuted genius, despite offering nothing intellectual. I’m all for believing in the impossible, but there’s a huge difference between lunacy and idiocy. Confusing one for the other isn’t even worth calling ‘mad’, it’s just plain insulting.

In this return to Wonder – sorry, Underland – the colours are brighter, the tone is lighter, and the plot makes no god damn sense. It seriously feels like they were making it up as they went. First, it’s a mission to save the Hatter’s family, then it’s to save the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), then it’s to save time itself, or himself (Sasha Baron Cohen). It’s not really a stacking up of conflicts as it is a shuffling of the cards. There’s no build up, just one garish set piece after another.

alice through the looking glass

“This cannot be good.”

I think we’ve come to a point where a film’s ‘muchness’ can too easily become too much ‘muchness’ (that sentence alone captures only a sliver of the saccharine glib Looking Glass calls dialogue). Sure, Underland’s surface looks technically impressive, not too ‘star-wars-prequel-green-screeny’, but it looks just as good as it did six years ago, which I’m not sure is a sign of consistency or a stagnant quality of CGI in film. Truly, the things computers can do these days – to sound like an old codger – is remarkable, but comparing these two movies, it feels depressingly usual for a world that should be anything but.

alice through looking glass

“Friends cannot be neglected.”

Really though, I don’t think either of these movies wanted to take us to Wonderland (it’s not even called Wonderland). Carrol’s work seems more to function as the aesthetic inspiration for an uninspired story. While Looking Glass fills in most of the rabbit holes from the previous film, it bores several far deeper holes, to the point that the film caves in on itself. My issue isn’t that the plot makes no sense, its more that it takes a world that makes no sense and senselessly tries to cram logic into it. In the 2010 film, it was a Lord of the Rings war prophecy (as if that horse wasn’t beaten to death already) which asks that Carrol’s madhouse characters suddenly take up politics. Bad idea. This time, it’s a time travel story (have fun counting all the time puns in this movie. As for me, I don’t have the time of day). Here’s the thing, time travel stories are tough, and it takes a lot of careful work in continuity, setup, and payoff to make it work (turn your attention to Back to the Future for a much better time travel story). But even if Looking Glass had any of the wittiness of director James Bobin’s The Muppets or Flight of the Conchords, I still doubt it could work. Simply put, time travel in Alice in Wonderland is confusing. Time travel, when used in fiction, means we need bearings on when we were and when we are (be it past, present, future, alternate past, alternate future, or Cronenberg world). Alice may point out the time and place, but aside from the characters, Underland never seems to age. The interchangeable settings means we no longer feel anxiety for the causality of time (the big lesson of the story turns out to be that you can’t change the past, even when you have a time machine). This insistence on a convoluted premise calls for ingenuity, but it’s obvious that they just wrote themselves into a corner.

alice through the looking glass

“Your time is up.”

All of this would have been forgivable if there was anything entertaining about Looking Glass, if there was anything worth getting invested in. Trouble is, no one, on or off screen, seems invested in this movie. I can’t blame the actors for this (what else has Johnny Depp got at this point but Tim Burton?). It’s really a screenplay that insists its characters are deeper than they are but never bothers to develop them. There’s not a likeable character in this entire movie, save to a measly degree, the Red Queen, who at the very least has a clear motivation (and maybe Absolem (Alan Rickman), for fading peacefully into the background before the film really takes a turn for the worst, RIP). I would’ve been fine with a cast of one-note characters in a nonsensical road-trip story, but Through the Looking Glass goes in a completely different direction. It’s so assured in giving Wonderland a point that it completely misinterprets Wonderland altogether.

alice through the looking glass

“You’ve been gone too long, Alice.”

I’m not entirely pessimistic though, despite everything. The movie did bomb, but not for any reason I’ve said. It’s more the competition and market saturation that set Looking Glass up for disaster, and the Depp scandal that sealed its fate. I feel no sympathy for its losses. Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t so much a movie as an over-inflated balloon, one puff of air away from popping. Here’s hoping the numbers catch Disney execs’ eyes, and that whoever sees Looking Glass will come out with a newfound understanding of the difference between nostalgic, whimsical lunacy and shallow, bloated idiocy.

My Rating: 3/10

alice through the looking glass

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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