Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska and Sacha Baron Cohen can't save Alice
Here’s a question that no studio executive bothered to answer: Why should audiences return to Wonderland when it wasn’t such a wonder the last time they were there? Bloated and boring, Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel no one asked for, and worse, one that can’t even justify its own existence.
In the follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, still full of pluck. She’s a sea captain now, piloting her father’s ship in rough waters only to find that the sailing at home is even more treacherous. Thanks to an unscrupulous businessman, she either has to give up her father’s ship or her mother’s house. Before she can make a decision, though, she finds herself stepping through an ornate mirror, and back among her friends in Wonderland.
For her old friend, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), things aren’t much better. He’s deeply despondent, missing his long-dead family and demanding that Alice bring them back. To attempt the impossible, Alice must convince Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), himself, to let her travel back through decades and right old wrongs.
It could be a compelling idea, but Through the Looking Glass never delivers on the story. Instead, the film hurls CGI spectacles on the screen by the millions of dollars, never once coming up with a compelling reason to pay attention to the plot.
Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter (as Red Queen Iracebeth) seem game to keep up the charade, as does Baron Cohen, who’s quite compelling as the melancholy Time, once he stops bothering to try to sell the movie’s lame jokes. But Anne Hathaway (playing White Queen Mirana) just seems wilted. And there’s no reason for anyone to continue indulging Depp in his bizarre need to be on the biggest screens in the world, while hiding behind makeup and effects. The Hatter is sad, to be sure, but mostly for the wrong reasons.
Ultimately, the film lacks the magic and danger inherent in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel of a stranger in the most strange land of all. As the Hatter might say, this mini-franchise has lost its muchness – not that it had much to begin with.