‘Looking Glass’ a curious sequel
“Alice Through the Looking Glass,” like its predecessor, owes very little to Lewis Carroll.
Textual adherence is somewhat beside the point when serving as a sequel to something that also cherrypicked. However, lest you think a six-year gap and the absence of Tim Burton in the director’s chair might have allowed for a return to the gleeful absurdity of Carroll, they don’t.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast”) again has disposed of the source material in favor of something more linear — a story about Alice (Mia Wasikowska) looking for Hatter’s (Johnny Depp) family.
Director James Bobin’s (“The Muppets”) film trudges on through the lushly designed world answering questions we never asked, like, “what was the Mad Hatter’s childhood like?” And, “why does the Red Queen have such a large head?” In other words, it’s an Underland origin story.
We meet Alice some years after the first film faced again with the prospect of losing her independence. Last time she was fleeing a proposal. This time her livelihood is in jeopardy (she’s a sea captain now, and a good one). So when life gets frustrating in the real world, Alice climbs through a mirror and is transported back to Underland. Her old friends have been waiting for her to fix another problem: the Mad Hatter.
The nightmarish Hatter, who has developed a more pronounced (and annoying) lisp, is wallowing in life-threatening depression (manifested in combed hair, a sicklier pallor and a grown-up wardrobe) because he’s found an object that makes him believe his family is alive. This was not something that seemed to afflict Hatter in the first film, but maybe he’s just good at compartmentalizing.
Alice decides be a noble friend and take on Time to get to the bottom of what really happened on the day when the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) unleashed her Jabberwocky on their village. Time, you should know, is part clock, part man (Sacha Baron Cohen) and sounds a lot like Werner Herzog. His sequences and his little steampunk companions are a high point. It’s the one time Bobin can really get out from under Burton’s suffocating precedent.
Time talks a big game and can also decide when someone’s time is up, but his own command is dependent on a larger-thanlife clock powered by another device that also functions as a time travel machine. That’s what Alice steals to careen back through time to try to correct the original sins of Underland — a quest she continues even after she learns of the possibly catastrophic consequences of her actions.
While it might sound intriguing on paper, on screen it’s less than enchanting, and the plot gets less and less compelling as it goes on.
There are some inspired visuals, like a landscape of glimmering pocket watches suspended in air, but many of the set pieces are executed with too much remove. Alice, for instance, must walk across the enormous hands of a ticking clock to gain entry to Time’s headquarters. It’s a great idea and looks wonderful, but it’s just airless and void of suspense in execution.
Excitement and wonder are fairly hard to conjure up when your Mad Hatter is consumed with daddy issues, your protagonist is nonchalant about everything, and the oddities of this world are suddenly getting scientific explanations and back stories that really only show how awfully ordinary everything once was.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska, at right) returns to the whimsical world of Underland in “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”