Saturday, 28 May 2016

Film Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass sees director James Bobin (The Muppets Most Wanted) take the reins on Disney's colourful billion-dollar franchise - but something magical to send it stratospheric continues to elude this garish adaptation of Lewis Carroll's works.

Everyone has different tastes, but I think we as a species can agree on one indisputable fact - that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland really wasn't all that hot. It was okay, but it can be summarised as something of a misfire from a critical standpoint.

That being said, it did make a buttload of cash so - ding, ding, ding - time for sequel! Enter Alice Through the Looking Glass, a loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's novel of the same name that sees Alice (Mia Wasikowska) return to Underland once again only to find that her BFF The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is hellbent on finding his supposedly dead family. When no-one chooses to believe that the Hatter's family is indeed alive, it's left to Alice to solve the mystery by travelling back in time and plotting the events that lead to their disappearance.

The introduction of time travel is an interesting angle; it allows the film to exist after the events of the first but also chart the origins of numerous characters, such as the Hatter, the Red Queen and the White Queen. Whether their backstories are completely necessary is another matter, but the adventure through time aspect of this film is vaguely interesting. I liked the way that the film envisioned time as a raging sea and how that tied in with Alice being a sea captain back in the real world. The notion of time (or should I say 'Time') as an actual person (here played by Sasha Baron Cohen) is also pretty cool, and I quite liked Cohen's malicious panto performance. Plus, Wasikowska feels more assured in the lead this time around. Strong-minded and adventurous, this version of Alice that will enchant younger audiences as she mixes tea time with time travel.

This is where the positives end though. Whilst I probably liked this film marginally more than the first (the colours just seem to pop more than before), it still suffers from a lot of the same issues.

Depp slips back into the role of the Mad Hatter as one would a coma; his performance is filled with all the trademark quirks we've come to expect. Twitchy and babbling jibberish, Depp's portrayal would be amusing enough if it wasn't for the terrifying makeup plastered across his face. Honestly, it's enough to make even the meanest kids wet the bed in fright. Those eyelids are simply hideous!

And seeing as though the whole film revolves around us caring about his dumb family, this is kind of a big sticking point for me. I just don't care about the Mad Hatter at all. Give me more Alice and her sea-faring adventures or actually make use of the Cheshire Cat and the March Hare and such - anyone but this nightmarish alien/clown hybrid.

The same goes for Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen. My god, looking at her beetroot cheeks and bulging eyes will keep me awake at night for weeks. It doesn't help that she screams every line at the top of her lungs either. The visual effect that stitches Bonham Carter's face onto the stretched balloon she has for a head is just as dodgy the second time around too. I wanted to sink into my chair and never emerge every time she strutted onto screen.

Kids will probably have fun with all the colours and whiz-bang action set-pieces, but the lack of a tactile environment for the ensemble to interact with will probably irk older viewers. When you can unfocus your eyes and practically see the sprawling green screen sets, it's most likely a sign that the film isn't sweeping you away as much as you'd like. There are redeemable factors, but most are drowned out by the garish VFX and screeching performances from Depp and Bonham Carter.

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Alice Through the Looking Glass is a sequel that few people asked for and even fewer will enjoy. Wasikowska is more comfortable up-front but the film shares too much of its DNA with Burton's underwhelming original to wholly impress.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is in cinemas across Australia now

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