Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016) (Review)

Alice Through The Looking Glass poses a very similar scenario to last month's The Huntsman: Winters War; it is the sequel to a commercially successful if critically indifferent original film that was seemingly done and dusted with the first release. The lukewarm response to the first film saw its North American release, in which it went up against the blue mutants in X-Men: Apocalypse, blunder, sending it on a downward trajectory as previously seen with the Huntsman. Still, what about the film itself? Is it any good? How does it live up to the pretty low standard set by the original and the dizzying heights and mysticalness of the source material?

Following her adventures back in England, a magical looking glass takes Alice (Mia Wasikowska) back into Underland and discovers that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is acting madder than usual; he wants to learn the truth about his family's supposed death. With the help of her friends and the hinderance of her foes, Alice races through time before it catches up with her and it is too late to save the Hatter. If you are starting to think that the plot sounds nothing like the book, you are absolutely right and it seems like a concoction to plot lines and generic inspirations thrown together so Alice has tumble into Wonderland on another adventure.

In a nutshell, Alice Through The Looking Glass is an improvement on Alice in Wonderland without actually qualifying as good. It's a phrase I have seen repeated throughout reviews but one that I wholly understand having watched the film. It's more of the same again, with a few altered nuances, but does have a slightly firmer grip on the world it wants to present to us. And that world is a vibrant, effervescent and vivacious land that is popping with colour and CGI extravaganza. Ironically, similarly to the previously-mentioned Apocalypse, it is rather clear the money has been split between the A-List cast and expensive visuals. Some of the landscapes are quite breathtaking and the production design elements are enchanting. I really give props to the film for creating a visually exquisite film - but that doesn't really help the film overcome its sticky patches.

The narrative is a scattershot of plot points and pieces that rarely feels cohesive, mainly due to the time travel nature of the film. Whilst it is an excellent concept - the personification of time; is time a good thing or a bad thing, time running out - it doesn't come close to being executed efficiently. Set pieces feel very disjointed and everything seems to be thrown together in the last moments to work towards a conclusion that feels temporarily permanent (I assume Disney were hedging their bets in the hope that Looking Glass worked up to be half the success Wonderland was). It is this issue with the structure that gives the impression that the plot is merely an inconvenient extra in the way of bringing us back into the colourful land of Wonderland.

Classic tales do not come as wondrous at this; the book is bursting at the seems with memorable characters, so it really is a shame that they are not explored in such awe. The cast are good, if nothing more, with the unfortunate idea in mind that some overplay their characters. Helena Bonham Carter is the undeniable standout as the Queen of Hearts, barmy and bonkers but never feeling overstretched, despite this being such an easy thing to slip into. Depp is surprisingly underused but sometimes feels artificial under the aesthetics. Interestingly enough, he is more engaging and joyous as the past-Hatter than he is the present-Hatter, whether by coincidence or with a purpose in showing his deteriorating state; otherwise it feels like he doesn't want to be there, unfortunately (a lot like most of the audience..). Wasikowska as Alice is convincing, if not as commanding as you would want from an essentially female-led summer blockbuster. New addition to the cast Sacha Baron Cohen is intriguing as the personification of time and a stronger presence that I thought he would be. The late Alan Rickman is always a domineering present but used sparingly, while Matt Lucas is entertaining at The Tweedles. Most are good, if not great.

Don't get me wrong, if you want an entertaining film, by all means try Alice Through The Looking Glass. It certainly isn't for everyone but it might fill some time of the day. But you arguably want more from a film that using it to just pass some time. It considers some very interest and intriguing ideas (the personification of time) that are lost in the time travelling aspect of the film, as does most of the narrative cohesion and tightness. Visual spellbound cannot distract from the flaws of the film but can tide you over just enough to find something enjoyable in this jumbled adventure.

Summary: Alice Through The Looking Glass is better than the original without necessarily being great, as the visual spectacle is not always enough to disguise the narrative scattershot that otherwise hinders this second adventure into Wonderland.

Highlight: Visually, this is a great film

(REVISED - 6/10)
(ORIGINAL - 6.5/10)