Alice in Wonderless-land (again)

When I was a kid I had an A-Team lunchbox, and I loved it. The show starred real people, so it was far more grown up than my friend’s lunchboxes, which all had cartoons on the front  He-Man, Thundercats, Transformers etc.  What I didn’t realise was that my lunchbox had very little to do with the show itself  it existed solely to make some more money out of my parents.
What you need to realise about Alice Through the Looking Glass is that like it’s predecessor, Tim Burton’s ridiculously successful but utterly insufferable Alice in Wonderland, it is barely a movie. It is more a piece of merchandise, a shameless cash grab designed to capitalise on audience’s fond memories of Lewis Carroll’s timeless books. Like my A-Team lunchbox, it has almost nothing to do with the source material, simply appropriating beloved characters and slapping them on a flimsy, hollow product.
The film opens with a rousing naval chase scene, with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) the captain of the good ship Wonder, using her courage and wit to evade a trio of pursuing craft on heavy seas. It is the only scene in almost two hours that generates any sense of danger or excitement, and I kind of wished that could be the movie. Instead, once we’re back to London Linda Woolverton’s screenplay contrives a way for Alice to get back to Wonderland as quickly as possible.
The gang are all there waiting, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit in their cruddy CG ignominy, the airheaded White Queen (Anne Hathaway) moronically twiddling her fingers and making daft faces. And of course there’s Johnny Depp’s headlining Mad Hatter, possibly the worst interpretation of a literary character in movie history.

The Hatter’s a bit down in the dumps, feeling remorse over the death of his family in a Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) instigated Jabberwocky attack in the past. He’s so sad that he’s about to die himself. Rather than seeing this as a good thing, Alice is persuaded by her other fantasy friends to acquire a “chronosphere” from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen), head back into the past and rescue the Hatter’s clan.
And so the film trundles on for another hour and a half through a series of inept, weightless and completely uninvolving set pieces. Nothing feels at stake, no-one seems like they’re in danger, nobody dies, nothing is gained or lost. It is commonplace these days for critics to describe CG-heavy action movies as like watching someone else playing a video game; Alice’s adventure is so mundane that it’s more like watching someone trying to decide on a screensaver for their PC.
There are some positive notes. The time travel plot is at least marginally more interesting than the formulaic quest of the first movie. Directed by the workmanlike James Bobin, the tone isn’t quite as jaded as the original. Burton wisely stood aside this time, having spent much of the 21st century desecrating popular classics. Alice in Wonderland marked the low point of his increasingly moribund career, somehow managing to be worse than both his “re-imagining” of Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In Bobin’s hands, Through the Looking Glass is merely both boring and noisy, like a lesser entry in Michael Bay’s crass Transformers franchise.
Alice 1
Cohen has some fun as the pompous and impatient Time. Most of his material is made up of unfunny time puns, and he bafflingly impersonates Werner Herzog throughout the film. Yet he’s surprisingly charming and has a couple of good scenes with Alice.
Then there’s Wasikowska, who takes the material completely seriously and gives a very dignified performance. She seems determined not to get upstaged by the cartoonish shenanigans of the bigger stars around her and displays a robust, no-nonsense physicality in the action scenes. One could see her as a credible, intelligent female action hero in the mould of Emily Blunt.
On the flip side there’s the bloated, tiresome performances by Bonham-Carter and Depp hanging around like a fart in a jacuzzi. HBC shouts a lot and rips off Miranda Richardson’s Queenie from Blackadder II, just like she did in the first movie.
And Johnny Depp. What can we say about Depp these days? Despite a sequence of high profile flops, he’s still considered a marquee name big enough to hang a $170 million movie on. This is largely down to the goodwill he generated playing a comedy pirate in a film based on a funfair ride, although that goodwill is dwindling rapidly.
Whereas other major Hollywood actors of his generation have matured, Depp seems trapped in perpetual arrested development, ever more reliant on silly makeup voices in lieu of acting. It was fine to see him playing man-child kooks, weirdos and oddballs twenty years ago, but now he’s in his fifties it just feels a bit sad and creepy. The light behind his eyes went out years ago.
Alice Through the Looking Glass represents the worst kind of commercial avarice, although it didn’t make me want to punch myself repeatedly in the face like Tim Burton’s original did. Looking on the bright side, it may at least persuade someone out there to pick up a piece of classic children’s literature. Otherwise, it stinks and is deserving of the utmost contempt.


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