Alice Through the Looking Glass, 2016.
Directed by James Bobin.
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Rhys Ifans and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter.
For all its visual wonder, Alice in Wonderland suffered from director Tim Burton’s almost infantile inability to let go of what is nothing short of his monstrous ego, a running issue apparent in anything post Sleepy Hollow way back in 1999. Oh the joy that Alice Through the Looking Glass, under the direction of James Bobin, shakes away the ego, in place of genuine heart, something all but lacking from its predecessor.
We find Alice aboard her father’s ship, The Wonder, under the pursuit of pirates. Six years later, back in London, Alice’s one-times dastardly fiancé is threatening to kick her mother out of the house unless she gives up The Wonder. Not exactly subtle. Living a fantasia fails to translate once an adult and Alice is swiftly diagnosed with hysteria, finding herself in a mental home, all while desperately seeking a return to the crazed innocence of Wonderland.
A return she gets. After guidance from Absolem, voiced with such warmth by the late Alan Rickman, Alice finds the Mad Hatter in the midst of a bout of terminal depression possibly caused as a result of daddy issues. So naturally, she travels back in time, despite the warnings from “Time”, played with aplomb by Sacha Baron Cohen.
It’s all far more assured than its messy, emotionally empty predecessor. James Bobin, whose previous directorial experiences include the last two Muppets movies, Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Conchords, again finds emotional complexity in the most unlikely of places. To tackle mortality and morality in a monstrously budgeted film aimed at children with piss poor attention spans clearly shows at least an inkling of chutzpah, something lacking in many a family orientated blockbuster. And with that Alice Through the Looking Glass presents its cards.
Even Time, a villain defined entirely by clichés seen in everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Baron-Cohen’s swaggering French NASCAR driver in Talladega Nights has a role that (although literally moustache twirling) pushes the plot and Alice forward in a manner that reinforces the source novels broad feminist roots. Wasikowska, consistently finding roles celebrating female independence at a time in which there are few and far between, is fast becoming the most interesting actress of her generation.
Visually, the film again fizzes with enough strangeness to set it apart from the landfill fairy tale nonsense Hollywood seems so desperate to force upon audiences. Yet its reliant on CGI ultimately results in a sense of weightlessness, both literally and figuratively. Each shot is jammed to the very brim with things-floating clocks, sentient playing cards-that after a while, become more of an eye sore.
When read simply as a further Alice adventure, it’s little more than filler for what will ultimately result in further returns to madcap Wonderland, but it’s important to read it as a feminist stronghold among the male-orientated apocalypse dwelling blockbusters that feel all so tired. A shame then that its predecessor, six years on, finds itself in cultural limbo.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★