Unless a giant boat sinks at the end, a film that grosses over a billion worldwide is pretty much guaranteed to get a sequel whether the audience demand is there for one or not. This is how we get Alice Through the Looking Glass, James Bobin’s time-traveling sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 film Alice in Wonderland. Bobin’s film labors under the presumption that we desperately needed to know how the Queen of Hearts got her gigantic noggin or what happened to the Mad Hatter’s family. And yet for a film about the urgency of time, Looking Glass drags at a remarkable rate. There are some interesting ideas and concepts sprinkled throughout, but they never coalesce into something that’s worth your time.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has been sailing the seas as a ship captain, but when she comes home, she learns that her command has been sold and she’s doomed to work as a desk clerk. Refusing to accept this fate, she runs off during a party and into a room that just so happens to have a magical mirror that transports her back to Underland. There she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has fallen into a deep depression because no one but him believes that his family is still alive. Alice, determined to save her friend from coping with grief and regarding the rules of the space-time continuum, steals the time-traveling chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and goes into Underland’s past where she learns the relationship between the Red Queen Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen Mirana (Anne Hathaway).
The relationship between Iracebeth and Mirana seems like a remnant from an earlier, more interesting script that was about betrayal and forgiveness. Unfortunately, neither actor is Johnny Depp, so there seems to be the thinking that the audience deeply cares about a deeply irritating character who looks like the offspring of Carrot Top and Bat Boy. So we’re forced along on a journey of salvation for a character who is beloved by the rest of the cast, but not by the audience.
Curious and curiouser, it also makes Mad Hatter an inactive participant in his own rescue. While it’s nice that Alice is selflessly risking everyone and everything for the happiness of one individual, it’s bizarre to make that individual a supporting character rather than carry them along on the journey. It would be like if Marty McFly was in no danger of disappearing after meddling with the timeline and just wanted to get his parents together because it’s a nice thing to do.
This leads to Alice mostly being a tourist in the lives of the supporting characters who inhabit Underland, and it leads to answers to questions we never had like “How did the Red Queen’s head get so big?” and “What kind of relationship does the Mad Hatter have with his father?” The movie assumes an investment that probably doesn’t exist, and yet we’re dragged through these relationships regardless, unable to ignore that Alice is destroying Time himself for the purpose of cheering up the Mad Hatter.
There are some neat concepts along the way in Alice Through the Looking Glass as well as some impressive production design, but that’s not enough to make up for a weak narrative that tries to support characters we never really had an interest in in the first place.