Alice Through the Looking Glass arrives six years after its predecessor, with former director Tim Burton switching hats to a producer’s role. His move is perhaps unsurprising if we consider the lacklustre reviews suffered by the first film, but having grossed $1 billion worldwide, a sequel was always going to be on the cards.
The James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) directed follow-up film falls into the recent trend of sequels-that-are-also-prequels; offering back stories to characters that probably didn’t require them, tailored to a young audience who probably don’t really care.
Mia Wasikowska returns as the ‘yellow-haired’ Alice, spending much of the film looking like she’s fallen off a Meadam Kirchhoff catwalk rather than through a looking glass. Linda Woolverton, the writer behind both films, attempts to inject some depth to the story by beginning to explore the sexism and mistreatment commonly faced by Victorian women, but this plot line is quickly shelved as the narrative switches to saving Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter.
Depp, along with the usually brilliant Helena Bonham Carter, feels stunted in his role, showing just a sliver of the madcap characterisation that helped spawn the commercial success of the first film. Anne Hathaway returns as the White Queen, feeling almost like a parody mash-up of all the wettest elements of her past rom-com roles, as she simpers through her lines whilst making odd, limp and distracting hand-gestures.
New to the cast is Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the half-man-half-clock embodiment of time itself. Baron Cohen puts everything into the role – almost too much in fact – as he tries to conquer humour, menace, and a highly confusing accent throughout the story. His best scenes are those where he’s teamed up with Bonham Carter, playing a convincing doormat-boyfriend and dictator.
By introducing Time to the story, Woolverton is able to move the narrative from past to present to future, as Alice takes charge of the ‘chronosphere’ – a device that allows the keeper to time travel. The plot sees Alice try to travel back in time to stop the injury that caused the Red Queen’s deep-rooted anger and unhappiness, in an attempt to stop her threatening the Hatter’s family in the present day.
The film itself is fast-paced and frantic, and in 3D it’s an assault on the senses. This is definitely not one to watch if you have vertigo, problems with motion sickness. or a hangover. The audience appeared to mainly consist of parents with young children, who seemed to split into extremes of being either completely awe-struck or utterly distracted throughout. There are enough cast members carried over from the original film to the sequel to ensure that fans should crossover, but with six years between the two films, will the original cinema-going (and paying) crowd care?
As Sacha Baron Cohen states in the film: “Time waits for nobody,” and it feels like time may have run out for any existing fans to care too much about this visually impressive but over-inflated franchise.
Words by Martha Ling