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REVIEW: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

Written by Mark Russell

Time is ticking by from our births to our deaths. It is our friend and our enemy, our guardian and our minder. And it is with us when we wait six years for Alice Through the Looking Glass to come out. The sequel to the 2010 film directed by Tim Burton, which was a surprise hit and inspired Disney to remake all of their classic films in live action. However, while Alice in Wonderland was dull, aimless, and tried to bring logic to Wonderland with a stupid war story, its sequel remembers what it is playing with and actually brings some colour, zaniness, and fun to the screen. This trip down the rabbit hole, or rather through the looking glass, is a better experience, but does that make it better than the first film?

The film opens with what feels like a lengthy advert for the new Shanghai Disneyland or the next Pirates of the Caribbean film, with Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) captaining her late father’s ship across the seas like she is Captain Jack Sparrow. Upon returning to England, Alice discovers the stuffy old fossils that have funded her voyages don’t like a women doing virtually anything, so they try to make her sign off her ship to insure her mother’s pension and Alice will stuck doing a deskjob. Because it absolutely most unorthodox for a woman to have her own ambitions in life. Alice stomps off but by following Absolem (Alan Rickman) through a mirror and ends up back in Wonderland. No, I’m sorry, I mean Underland (though it actually isn’t named as such in the film).

Alice learns of the “matter of the Hatter” (Johnny Depp), who has fallen into a deathly depression upon rediscovering the first hat he ever made and is convinced his family are not dead. The only way to fix the Hatter is to steal a device called the Chronosphere and go back in time to prevent the Hatter’s family from being killed by the Jabberwock. Yes, time travel in Wonderland. It’s almost too crazy of a concept to imagine, which I guess makes sense. Alice has to take the Chronosphere from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen), a particularly captivating and hilarious character, who is actually not evil as portrayed in the marketing. Being the personification of time, reality, and death, Time pursues Alice through the past to make sure she doesn’t destroy history.

To make matters worse, guess who happens to be Time’s girlfriend and house guest: The exiled Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who wants the Chronosphere herself to go back in time and alter history so she can rule Underland without interference from Alice and her friends. However, most of the plot takes place back in time from Alice’s perspective, encountering younger versions of Underland’s denizens and detailing what drove the Red Queen to become such a big-headed tyrant, and it is quite tragic at times. I always thought Iracebeth was the most compelling character in the first film and it pays off well here. It also fleshes out the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), who I was sure was not as squeaky clean as she appeared.

Though the film tries its best to make the Hatter the centre of the story, his restrained relationship with his dad (a common trope in films related to Tim Burton) really isn’t very engaging. In fact, Depp’s presence is minimal at best and he really lacks the charming energy he normally has in these sort of performances. Mia Wasikowska is allowed to express her fine talents, actually looking invested in her adventures and there is no more of that stupid “this is a dream” nonsense either. The supporting vocal cast return from the first film but don’t really have much to do, and sadly Alan Rickman only has one scene, but for obvious reasons. Thankfully, the film is dedicated to his memory and I initially went to this film strictly for him.

Time is the best element, particularly his character design, and the huge clock motif of his castle. He is accompanied by mechanical clockpunk minions called Seconds, who remind me of Tik-Tok from Return to Oz. Sacha Baron Cohen steals every scene he is in, and I love when Time is chasing Alice through the past and singing as he goes. There are moments where the film just abruptly stops, at one point thrusting Alice back to the real world where she discovers she has been placed in an institute. The comparisons to the video games American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns quickly rack up during the film, with Time replacing the games’ version of the Hatter, and even the Red Queen’s rotting, bug-infested castle looks the same.

The film’s production maintains the impressive score and special effects of the first, and director James Bobin, brought a lot of much-needed heart to the story and characters, even if this still counts as another round of the “Depp and Bonham Carter Show”. As a long-time fan of Alice in Wonderland, this is an improvement over the 2010 film, has a lot more fun to offer, and is an improvement all around in most categories. I wouldn’t mind necessarily seeing a third outing to Underland, but maybe twice is enough. And thank the heavens there isn’t another pointless Futterwacken dance number here. At lease the Hatter gets a more personal motive rather than waving a dumb broadsword around.

Have you seen Alice Through the Looking Glass? Is it better than the first and if not, how is it worse? Leave a message below in the comments or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell