Review: 'Alice Through the
Looking Glass'

Very little about the new Johnny Depp vehicle conjures genuine joy.
WACKY WASTE: Once again, Johnny Depp's talents are squandered on the overly cartoonish character of The Mad Hatter in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass.'

Glibsters say a book can never be ruined by a movie—"There it is, still up on the shelf." This rule doesn't apply to James Bobin's Alice Through the Looking Glass. It's so misbegotten that it must—somehow—poison its source.

Kids who somehow have a good time at this soulless film are never going to get the same pleasure out of the Lewis Carroll original, expecting it to have the same relentlessness, Bad-television-Christmas-special plotting, and Transformers-like robots.

It is a special book. Here is an introduction to linguistics, to talking insects decades before Kafka, and to other bizarre fauna—sometimes, "very unpleasant characters" as Alice describes The Walrus and The Carpenter. You could say it even anticipates cubism, when Humpty Dumpty speculates that human faces would be more memorable if both eyes were on the side of a nose.

In this Underland—Alice got the name wrong, as we learned in Tim Burton's original—the bland characters sit around waiting for Alice to do the proactive thing and help them. In a preamble, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a Victorian sea captain in the south seas; an occupation that garners her no respect. (Why is it just assumed that no one would be thrilled to hear the story of her voyages?) Linda Woolverton's script frames Alice as put-upon from the beginning. She's snubbed for the exotic Chinese outfit she wears at the ball of her ex-boyfriend Hamish (Leo Bill). One agrees with the chortlers—to use a verb Carroll coined; the silk outfit, with its spiked shoulders and and gold doodads, doesn't do Wasikowska any favors.

Hamish, the chinless suitor she once spurned, is now Lord Ascot. He holds the mortgage on Alice's house, forcing her to take a job as a file clerk. When Alice escapes this fate by jumping through an enchanted mirror, she discovers the Mad Hatter, whose real name is Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp), is depressed. "He's grown darker," says a bystander. (A lot of that going around in 2016 fantasies.)

The Mad Hatter turned into the Sad Hatter after the Jabberwocky's rampage in the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland. To bring Tarrant back from a lethal swoon, Alice must brave the castle of Time itself. The place is ruled by a Werner Herzog soundalike (Sasha Baron Cohen) in a steampunked-Samurai outfit. He's surrounded with little minion 'bots who can assemble themselves into a giant mechanical man. Time is the overlord of a giant clock; this machinery of fate is powered by "the chronosphere." Alice intends to steal the widget and voyage into the past.

Destroying the time-space continuum to cheer up a bedridden mope may not be the best idea a film ever had. As for Depp's horror-clown Hatter, who had a little warmth and brio in the previous Alice, he lays around staring off into space through painful-looking contact lenses. He's chief among the squandered actors, including the late Alan Rickman who has a few lines as the Caterpillar who metamorphosizes into a blue butterfly. The saddest waste: Lindsay Duncan trying to animate the part of Alice's debt-stressed mother. No help either from Helena Bonham Carter, as the Red Queen, whose oversized head and angry inner child are both explained away as a failure of therapy.

If the digital color is more bright and modulated than it was five years ago in 3D, so much of what's done here is something used before: from the backdrops of waterfalls and pink Maxfield Parrish clouds, to the meshing and turning of mammoth gears in Time's fortress. It's all as flat as the repeating backgrounds from a Hanna Barbera cartoon.

In the wrong hands, prequels strip all the fascination out of all tales of enchantment. They explain everything you wanted to suppose about. Every character here is diagnosed and instructed in good behavior. This movie takes the curiosities of Wonderland and turns them into a plasticized theme park.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
PG; 113 Mins.

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: