One of the biggest disappointments that I can recall in the past few years for film was the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of a big budget version of the story directed by Tim Burton sounded perfect on paper but in reality was plagued by a terrible script and hit or miss performances. I was originally going to write off this film and wait until it came on LoveFilm to watch it, until the tragic death of Alan Rickman. This film is the last film Alan Rickman was in that will be released so I felt obligated to see the film as a sort of tribute to Rickman. The film itself though, is completely unremarkable.The film focuses on Alice Kingsleigh who, after returning from the sea voyage set up at the end of the first film, finds herself being demeaned and patronised by the male heads of the company she works for, who want to take her ship and demote her from captain to clerk. At the same time though, Alice is brought back to Underland as the Mad Hatter is even madder than usual, believing his family is still alive (which should have been a bigger issue in the first film) and, when Alice doesn’t believe him, he starts dying and it’s up to Alice to steal a Chronosphere from Time to travel back in time to find out what happened to the Hatter’s family, Time following her to reclaim the Chronosphere and restore the balance of time. The main problem with the film comes in with the plot in Underland in that it’s incredibly formulaic, predictable and generic. There’s nothing in the plot that you haven’t seen in a dozen other time travel films, even the more interesting aspects which are repeated from other media (the paradoxes created by Alice fixing themselves, which I remember being done in a few episodes of Futurama, off the top of my head) or ignored after they’re introduced (such as Time trapping people at certain points in Time, which has some great potential but is ignored as soon as it’s overlooked). The film also expects a high level of investment in the character of the Mad Hatter, which I didn’t have. The character wasn’t interesting in the first film and he isn’t interesting here, growing more bland as the film goes on. There are also some bits at the end which bring in new backstory for the Red Queen and White Queen which comes right out of no-where and the resolution of it here could have stopped a lot of the problems created in the first film. The biggest problem though is that the stuff in the real world regarding how Alice is being treated by male society for her actions, her intelligence and her bravery, even being sent to a psychiatric hospital because of it. These scenes show a more compelling side to Alice than any of the scenes in Underland do and I was waiting for these scenes to end so we could go back to the real world. It’s a real sign of how badly written a version of Alice in Wonderland is when the real world has the more creative, intelligent plot.
The performances here are the same mixed bag as they were in the first film. Mia Wasikowska as Alice is a lot better here than she was in the first film, given more chance to show her skill, especially in the real world scenes, but the overall presentation of Alice as a character in Underland comes across as selfish, ignoring the damage that she’s doing and how she could destroy Time in order to save the Hatter, who doesn’t deserve this level of attention. This is partly due to a terrible performance from Johnny Depp as the Hatter, coming across as equal parts bored and annoying and the whole nature of his performance means that when we are expected to feel pathos for the character, it falls flat. The only reason it can vaguely work is due to a decent performance from Rhys Ifans as the Hatter’s dad, but his work is too little too late for the character. Sacha Baron Cohen meanwhile is all over the place, he plays Time like a villain when he’s really someone just doing his job and his decision to do a Werner Herzog impression whilst playing Time is baffling (with this also extending to Matt Vogel, who’s performance as Wilkins sounds like a German Gollum). Helena Bonham Carter is really annoying throughout the film, the elements that made the Red Queen work in the first film coming across as annoying here whilst Anne Hathaway is bland and forgettable as the White Queen. For the real world, Lindsay Duncan is good as Alice’s mum, showing the impact that Alice has had on her and how Alice is the exception to gender roles of the time, whilst Leo Bill is enjoyably hateful as Hamish. Most of the cast though is completely wasted. Michael Sheen, Richard Armitage, Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor, Matt Lucas, Timothy Spall, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman only get a handful of lines between them, having no real impact on the story (the only one of these who has some impact being Rickman, who’s character of the Caterpillar brings Alice to Underland). The biggest waste though is on Andrew Scott, who is in the film for less than a minute, his scene in the trailer being his whole scene in the film. It feels like there was a lot more of Scott in the film that was cut out, a complete waste of an excellent actor.
The redeeming aspects of the film though come through the technicals. James Bobin handles the CG elements of Underland brilliantly, him, along with the effects team and production designers creating some brilliant new elements of Underland, the Ocean of Time being a highlight. The costume design continues the strong work set up in the first film, more being said through costumes than dialogue in a lot of cases. The CG is excellent throughout in creating the background of Underland and most of the characters, the only exception being Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the effects on these characters falling into the Uncanny Valley.
Overall, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a bland and forgettable film. Whilst some elements work, mainly the technical side of the film and the scenes in the real world, the film falls apart when it focuses on the main plot due to bad writing and a terrible performance from Johnny Depp. I’m pretty sure that in a few days I’ll have forgotten pretty much everything that happened in the film and nothing of value will have been lost.
My Rating: 2/5