Sequel bashing happens a lot these days. Not all are bad, but a whole slew seem to defy a reason to exist other than for a chunk of box office profits which don’t always happen. Last year Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, Ted 2, Terminator Genesys, Taken 3, and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 ungracefully graced the big screen, with nearly all of them under-performing expectations and being generally unfavourably received. It makes you wonder what kind of potential was seen in them, and sadly, Alice Through The Looking Glass, the sequel to Tim Burton’s visually dazzling smash hit in 2010, fits that mold. Whilst it amicably steers away from traditional sequel methods of blowing everything up to bigger proportions and generating a more personal story, that’s its main problem – it doesn’t carry a narrative strong enough to justify its existence.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has been travelling the world for the past three years, and upon returning to England from China, finds her ex-fiancé has taken control of her father’s company and wants Alice to sell him her father’s ship in exchange for her family home. In the midst of this, she is summoned back to Wonderland to help the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who is dying of an ill heart because no one will help him track down his family, who he believes are alive. In order to help save him, Alice visits Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), to travel back to when Hatter’s family vanished.
Burton’s Alice in Wonderland had many issues. The CGI was pretty and engrossing despite being over used, but it was generally incoherent and overstuffed, and I wasn’t particularly sold on Mia Wasikowska in the central role: she never seemed to carry much investment to the character and for her first main role, a massive visual effects extravaganza would have been overwhelming for her. Wasikowska’s performance is much better here – she’s got more experience under her belt after several successful projects and she feels much more confident, with charisma, charm, humour, and enthusiasm. The more personal story also gives Helena Bohnam Carter’s shrieking Red Queen a bit of backstory and an exploration into her previous relationship with her White Queen sister, although that role’s far too pedestrian for Anne Hathaway, who resorts to an awful lot of fluttering of her arms in attempt to add gusto.
This down-scaled story, although earnest, just doesn’t carry enough rich heft to carry the film, and bares much similarity to Men In Black 3, which also utilised the whole time travel element. It’s certainly not awful and carries nothing that will offend anyone (apart from those fed up on Johnny Depp in extravagant costume), and whilst watching it’s just about enough to keep you moderately interested, but as soon as the credits roll, the air of pointlessness lingers.
The visual effects of Wonderland remain a pretty sight, but a second time around the world feels like a set of exquisite colourful oil paintings hanging around the characters. Pleasant, but when placed behind a small bunch of real life characters, it looks a little flat.
The addition of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Time is a mixed bag. The character himself is the strongest of the film, he’s sinister, but not really the villain as he’s safe-guarding time itself and attempting to prevent Alice from causing any damage. Baron Cohen’s jokes generally don’t hit very hard, but there’s no major cringe worthy lines and he’s well behaved and uncharacteristically inoffensive. I also quite like Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, as it’s not an in-your-face OTT role (apart from the ominous green contact lenses), more of a sweet and feeble character that’s pleasant company.
While good-natured and will serve as colourful fun for younger viewers and a time-passing distraction for parents, the plot and aesthetics of this ho-hum sequel fail to bring anything to the table to convince people that this was a continuation worth pursuing. You can be as earnest as you like, but if there’s no anchoring substance, narrative heights won’t be in reach.