‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ movie review: sequel goes down the rabbit hole

So Alice (of Wonderland fame) is now a rogue sea captain travelling the world in her father’s ship and outgunning pirates through narrow coves before docking in Victorian England. When she gets back, she discovers that old fuddy-duddy Hamish, who she left at the altar in the previous movie, is not only running things now, but holds the deed to her mom’s house and wants dad’s ship, too.

This is not, obviously, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s wonderful Through the Looking Glass, and as much as Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland was a departure from the classic novel, the degree to which this sequel withdraws from its source material is still a surprise.

There’s so much playful whimsy and vivid nonsense in Carroll’s writing, but no, no – here, Alice must travel through time to save the Mad Hatter’s family before the Evil Queen breaks time itself and destroys Wonderland (er, “Underland”) forever, all the while learning a thing or two to apply to her difficult real-world drama and so on and so forth.


Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, is our swashbuckling heroine, dancing across sea and land, through air and even time: she hops about the screen as if she were in a platforming Super Mario game in an effort to save her old Mad friend.

That Hatter, you see, has become sullen and sour after being reminded of his family’s death at the hands of the Jabberwocky, and as the color literally drains from his face and hair so does the fun from star Johnny Depp’s performance. Depp’s Mad Hatter, here called Tarrant Hightopp, highlighted the earlier film but only has a few isolated scenes in this sequel to goof around.

In his place, however, is Time itself, a half-mechanical man played by Sacha Baron Cohen who seems to be doing a Werner Herzog impression. It’s mildly amusing at first, but Cohen’s dedication to the performance grows on you: by the end, he’s the best thing about the movie.

Time is in love with the now-deposed bighead Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), for some reason, who wants to steal his cryosphere gyrocopter to travel back in time and, I guess, prevent her younger sister White Queen (Anne Hathaway) from stealing her glory after a fateful incident involving a fruit tart.

But Alice needs the cryocopter doodad to rescue Hatter’s family, and by travelling through time she seems to be tearing the very existence of reality apart, lest Time’s mechanical minions fail to keep that big clock ticking; not to mention, should she see herself, a mossy granite lava will slowly envelope all of Underland’s existence – unless she can outrun it and put that gyrosphere back where it belongs.

If Carroll’s prose and poetry in Through the Looking Glass represents the greatest literary nonsense ever put to page, Linda Woolverton’s script for this adaptation (?) can be called one of the worst examples of Hollywood nonsense screenwriting: wildly imaginative characters and worlds and ideas all stuffed into dull formula without any rhyme or reason, a sluggish slog from setpiece to setpiece with only the thinnest notions story to tie them together.

That’s a shame, because like the earlier film this one is overflowing with gorgeous sets and costumes, vivid colors and scatterbrain logic, and a wonderful collection of characters (the only thing left of Carroll’s original stories).

Those wonderful characters? Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the Caterpiller (now Butterfly, voiced by Alan Rickman in his final film work), the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), and the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen).

All those characters are part of the set design here. They’re present throughout the film, providing a range of reaction shots, but have nothing at all to do with the storyline.

Still, a film brimming with such imagination should still be able to work to some degree. All that’s missing in Alice Through the Looking Glass is a director of Tim Burton’s vision (filling in here: James Bobin, of Muppets Most Wanted fame) to tie everything into… an acceptable Hollywood blockbuster mediocrity. This one falls just short of that mark.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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