Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

by Adam Riske
It’s bad, but it’s not transcendently bad like some are saying.

I’m very tired of positive and negative hyperbole. I’ve read a few other reviews of the new Alice Through the Looking Glass, and quite frankly I was almost embarrassed for some of those writers. I agree with them that this is a lousy movie, but they act like it personally offended them or that it’s this affront to civilization. These people need to lighten up. They are some of the same people who are saying “XYZ ruined my childhood,” which loosely translates to “I hate my adulthood. I’ve made all the wrong choices and I’m going to take it out on Ghostbusters or the Star Wars prequels.” The way I see it, Alice Through the Looking Glass falls under the same umbrella of shittiness that many sequels from the 2000s do, such as The Mummy Returns or Shrek 3 or Avengers: Age of Ultron. Do you even think about these movies anymore? No. You’ll be fine is what I’m saying.

But enough about watching the watchmen. Alice Through the Looking Glass is actually a slight improvement over 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s a 1-1/2 star movie instead of a 1 star movie. As a Disney fan/semi-apologist, I sat in my seat during Alice 2 and really tried to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. I had low expectations for it sure but I was ready to have a good time. The director of the film is James Bobin, who directed the overrated The Muppets and the underrated Muppets Most Wanted and I was hoping he’d bring a similar playfulness and humor that he brought to the latter Muppets film to Alice Through the Looking Glass. However, he isn’t really given the opportunity. This is still a “visionary director Tim Burton" movie. I didn’t get the sense that this was Bobin at all. Burton served as producer on Alice 2 (not director), but this is a sequel to a movie so mind-bogglingly successful financially that there probably was a mandate by the producers and the studio to not change too much from what “worked” the first time around. So if you liked that shit, you’ll probably like this one too. I was bored for much of the time just like I was with the original in 2010, but it’s not like masturbating with a handful of sand like some others are saying.
Since there’s no Bobin flair to speak of, what we’re left with is the same beautiful visual effects, art direction and costuming that are rendered meaningless because it’s at the service of a story that is scattershot and uninteresting. The plot involves Alice trying to save the Mad Hatter’s family, Alice trying to reconcile the Red Queen and the White Queen using time travel and Alice trying to fight off a character called Time. The prologue to Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (or is it Underland?) shows that she’s a strong, willful woman and all of her adventures in Wonderland spit her out at the end as a strong, willful woman. So, yeah, there’s no arc for the lead character, which just goes to show you how nonsensical the story of this movie is. I’ll give the movie credit though for not turning Alice into a warrior woman who has to fight a dragon by the film’s end like they did in the 2010 film. The resolution of this one feels smaller and more character based, which is a relief even if it’s not good either.

Whenever I see a movie like Alice 2 that is so haphazard in its storytelling, I’m almost impressed in a gallows kind of way. You would think it’s easy in the script stage to write a movie where the current scene ties together and builds on the previous scene. I mean it would be easier to write a script that makes sense than one that does not, right? And yet, so many blockbusters (especially blockbuster sequels) lose audiences early because it’s just a mess of ideas with no clear through-line. Alice 2 is super guilty of this. It’s a movie where from scene to scene the actors’ motivations almost seem at odds with one another, like it’s a bad improv comedy show where everyone thinks they’re the diamond and everyone else is the setting. They seem so confused that I can understand why their performances are rendered one-note. This is also the type of movie where you zone out and then realize “wait, I’m watching a movie where Mia Wasikowska is running around on an oversize clock.” How do you even script or stage a sequence like that without having to take nap out of boredom by the time you’re done writing it?

The performances don’t help matters much. Mia Wasikowska looks adorable dressed as a sea captain in the film’s opening and closing sequences and I like that she’s plucky here but that’s it. She comes away the most unscathed; however, every time I see her on-screen it just reminds me that I’d rather be watching Mia: The Hot Sea Captain. Johnny Depp was hard to watch in this movie. I try to keep personal life shit aside, but I saw this the day he was accused of domestic violence so giving a fuck about the Mad Hatter was not in the cards this particular Friday night. I don’t know what the hell Anne Hathaway is doing in this movie. She’s playing to an audience of herself in these films. Helena Bonham Carter gives good shout and Sacha Baron Cohen is doing a Werner Herzog impression. P.S. Thanks everyone for making Sacha Baron Cohen a thing. He’s my cinematic nails on a chalkboard.
Disney is on quite a hot streak lately with all of their studio’s films and the properties they own like Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar. Alice Through the Looking Glass was inevitable because Alice in Wonderland made so much money, but it’s clear Disney’s heart is not in this property and they’re ready to just move on to this year’s The BFG and Pete’s Dragon or (more specifically) 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. They had to burn this one off. It will make tons of money outside of the U.S. because global audiences are more forgiving than they should be. This movie was too much of a financial no-brainer to not exist. This is only a movie an accountant could love. And for that I’m not mad at them. They make enough good movies that I’ll ignore the occasional bad one. As it stands now, I wouldn’t recommend seeing Alice Through the Looking Glass unless you’re a hippie who’s high of weed. Wait. Is that why teenagers love this property so much?

Note: When I saw this movie I sat in the front row of the stadium seating in my auditorium. At one point during the third act, I accidentally kicked off my flip flop and it fell just out of my reach. This incident provided more conflict and suspense than anything that was happening on-screen. If you’re bored watching this movie…maybe try that.


  1. Riske's Review: "It's bad and I don't like it, but I don't really care. What movie did I just see again?"

    1. I think that's simplifying it a bit but whatever.

    2. haha It's a good review, I'm just joking. Honestly though, you deserve a medal for actually watching this thing.

  2. On the one hand, I think Wasikowska is a gem of humanity, and that makes me kinda want to see this.

    On the other hand, that Depp as late period Michael Jackson stuff is an excellent disincentive to do the same. :P

  3. I watched the first one on the big screen and aside from Helena Bonham Carters hilarious red queen, I don´t remember anything from that movie. I´m pretty sure that I will never see this new one. The trailers already made me cringe.

    I think I´m also done with anything Tim Burton has to offer. Although Sweeney Todd and Big Fish were quite good, the last Burton film I really enjoyed was Sleepy Hollow in 1999. That´s 17 years ago.

    Regarding Johnny Depp, I hope that after the next Pirates movie, he will have a moment of insight and ditch every future role that requires crazy makeup and a strange voice.

    And your "P.S. Thanks everyone for making Sacha Baron Cohen a thing. He’s my cinematic nails on a chalkboard." made my day. ;-)

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