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‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ Reflects An Improved Installment (Movie Review)

alice looking glass thumbPerhaps it is the bitter taste still left in my mouth after having watched Tim Burton’s blockbuster that was Alice in Wonderland, but I have much warmer feelings towards this sequel, directed by James Bobin. Alice Through the Looking Glass may not be improving much on a sense of substance, but the level of design both practical and CG present in this film offers a lot to enjoy, which is what mainly disappointed me the first time around. Add to that a (kid-friendly) story involving time travel and there’s enough here to find me enchanted by a return to Wonderland.

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The film kicks off with promise for an entertaining movie that features Mia Wasikowska as the most irresponsible ship captain on the high seas. It’s a good thing Johnny Depp is busy covering himself in makeup in Wonderland to care, though I would not be against seeing this sort of silliness in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie, due out next year. These matters aside, there actually is an engaging tale to tell in Alice’s earth-based reality, but this is a sequel to a film involving a girl being whisked away to a nonsensical realm, so we must deal with that instead.

Most of my issues in the first adventure with Alice stemmed from seeing what appeared to be Tim Burton going through the motions of a stereotypical Tim Burton film. Despite the work to build a Burton-like world, it rarely felt surprising to see his vision of Wonderland in a live-action film. It didn’t help to see a hero’s journey narrative applied to the proceedings, which culminated in a forgettable action climax that turned Lewis Carroll’s work into a by-the-numbers studio film. Of course, getting that out of the way frees up the sequel to go in a different direction.

While bearing little actual connection to Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, this film has Alice travel through one and get herself caught up in a story involving the Hatter (Depp) and a quest to find out what happened to his family. It means visiting a number of familiar characters, including Anne Hathaway’s White Queen, Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat and others. We also meet a new pivotal character. He is Time, a half-human, half-machine individual who controls all of time in Wonderland. Time is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who seems to be doing a Christoph Waltz impression, mixed with the physical comedy Baron Cohen excels at.

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It is easy to say the film relies on pushing Wasikowska from one computer-generated set piece to another, but I think it is a credit to the performer and the spirited direction that the film never feels like it slows down. The plotting may feel a little thin and there is less to discover in the world of Wonderland, yet I was still engaged by what I was seeing. Between the visual effects and the costume design, I found the look of this film to be more pleasing than the sort of washed-out tones found the first time around. Essentially, this film feels more like an unapologetic fantasy film, with room for creativity to be admired.

There are areas where the film still finds itself holding back. For all the elaborate effects, there is little depth here, beyond getting some further confirmation that Alice being a woman in the real world should not limit her from achieving her potential. That’s fine, but nothing new, given what we learn in the first film. There is also less use of characters who arguably deserved more. It may have felt obvious for Burton to cast Depp as the Mad Hatter, but as much as I disliked that film, I actually found Depp to be pretty great in a role that had a surprising amount of pathos. Though the Looking Glass continues to find Depp in his element with this kind of material, but he really doesn’t have all that much to do. The same can be said for Hathaway and many of the side characters.

Character-wise, the film is really at its best when watching Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter dial up their weirdness. They get the film they are in and really run with it. A highlight comes from watching Time deal with his arrival at a tea party and what it means to mix the various levels of humor. Credit also goes to Wasikowska who does more than just react to the craziness around her. She has the right energy to play along in this wacky world, regardless of how much time she had to spend around green screens.

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Based on the recent Muppet films, I can’t say something like this was a true calling for Bobin, but he does what he can to continue on with this universe and at least makes the stitching together of these environments make a level of visual sense that I found enjoyable. It’s a little too bad to find a bit too much telegraphing of how events are going to play out, but I can at least take solace in feeling this sequel managed to deliver something more worthwhile than expected. Bobin will be taking on the Men In Black/21 Jump Street crossover next, so more power to him if he can continue making the nonsensical become a reality.

Alice Through the Looking Glass may not be the ultimate fantastical trip you could hope for, but given how baffling it is to bring up how 2010’s Alice in Wonderland made over a billion dollars worldwide, I’m just happy this film had more to offer. The visuals are better and brighter, some key characters are having enough fun and the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. If I have to wait around for a live-action Black Cauldron, I’m happy enough to pay my dues with something like this.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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