Alice Through the Looking Glass was not a sequel that anyone particularly asked for. while I’m sure fans of the original Tim Burton movie do exist, it wasn’t exactly a beloved movie in spite of its high box office gross. This was largely due to two reasons, in my opinion: first reason being that the movie couldn’t decide what audience it wished to aim at; the second being that it had no idea whether it needed to take itself seriously.
These problems have, unsurprisingly, been passed onto the sequel too.
We begin the movie in an action sequence at sea that exists only to show us that Alice is totally a strong female character because she can captain a ship. Unfortunately, the creators of this movie seem to assume that “strong woman” can translate to “efficient plank of wood”. Alice has virtually no personality. This is in spite of the fact that opportunities to give her some do open up in this very scene. Alice apparently hates being told that things are “impossible”. Could this be used to give her a sense of ambition, and wild recklessness? Well it could, but it isn’t. Sure, Alice saves her crew, but I feel absolutely nothing for the character as she does. Alice is less of a protagonist as she is a tool to get things done.
Then this brings us to quite possibly the worst scene in the movie. Alice visits a party held by her former fiance Hamish. The scene can be summed up in one sentence:
“You wish to be a captain? But you’re a WOMAN!” laughed the upper class caricatures.
Alice is a woman. Women are considered inferior in this time period. Did you catch that? Because this movie wants to whack us over the head with it. Not only are we using the “girl power” cliche that was feeling dated already in the 90s, but the misogynists in the scene are more cartoonish than half the characters of “Underland”. Note to writers: watching a girl prove a strawman with extremely old timey views that she can totally accomplish anything a boy can isn’t empowering. It’s a dated cliche.
Alice then encounters the butterfly known as Absalom and follows him through the looking glass, and back to Underland. We see a brief scene of Alice knocking over Humpty Dumpty, and a bunch of chess pieces try to put him together under their king’s orders. This is one of few scenes to contain any sort of charm. It’s a brief moment where the characters (in this case, the chess pieces on screen for about a minute) are taking themselves very seriously, but the narrative seems aware that the scene is quite silly. IT is one of the only moments in the movie where seriousness and silliness reach a balance, and it’s around a minute long.
So, Alice later finds herself amongst friends, all of whom bar the White Queen spend most of the movie in the background. They are, for the most part, just “there”. Alice finds out that the Mad Hatter is upset. Apparently the Hatter found the first hat he ever made and had a flashback to the day the Jabberwocky killed his parents.
All right, it’s one thing to have the Hatter be whimsically insane throughout the movie, but this scene seems to imply he’s suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, I have nothing against kids’ media dealing with dark themes. Inside Out proved that even something as complex as depression can be portrayed in a children’s movie-provided it is handled with effort and intellect. Even if the story is as wacky and whimsical as possible, stuff like this needs to have more thought put into it. I’m sure something like Adventure Time could have pulled off a plot point like this with dignity, but something as incredibly shallow as this film series simply doesn’t have the capability of doing so.
The Hatter believes that if the little hat survived, then so too did his family. Alice isn’t convinced, and The Hatter is overcome with despair, which seems to cause him to age. Seeing her friend is possibly dying, Alice wants to save him. The White Queen suggests time travel, which can only be done using the chronosphere, an item possessed by Time. Alice then enters a mysterious world inside a clock, and comes across a man known as the personification of time
And also the only character worth rooting for.
Credit to Sacha Baron Cohen here for, unlike a good deal of the other actors, actually trying to bring some life to his character. Indeed, Alice’s interactions with Time seem to be some of the only moments in the movie that seem to have any charm to them whatsoever.
Unfortunately, this is where one of the movie’s biggest problems comes in. Alice asks Time for the chronosphere, and he rightfully points out that this is a terrible idea, as it powers all of time. Alice steals it anyway, in the hopes of changing history. Why is this a problem? Well Time wasn’t lying. Throughout the entire movie, we see Time is clearly damaged, and breaking apart. In her hopes to save the Hatter, Alice is effectively coming close to killing a character whose biggest crime was telling her not to use the chronosphere because you can’t change the past. Also, he’s dating the Red Queen for some reason.
Helena Bonham Carter still manages to give a good performance as a little spoilt child. She wants the chronosphere for herself, though her true motives will be revealed later.
Alice travels through time, to the day where the Hatter was supposed to present the Red Queen with her crown. However, it failed to fit on her larger than average head, and thus people laughed. While I understand the Red Queen is a brat that no one likes, the entire scene comes across as far more awkward than funny. The Red Queen’s anger makes her head grow even larger, and she vows revenge.
Also, something of note here, but, isn’t Underland supposed to be a land full of whimsy and nonsense? Because both the king and the Hatter’s father are both awfully serious and ordinary men. Especially when compared to the cartoonish misogynists in the first ten minutes of the movie.
Alice realises two things: The Hatter’s father didn’t appreciate him, and the Red Queen suffered some kind of accident, and so, she attempts to right both. Meanwhile, Time finds the Hatter, and we get one of another very few decent scenes in the movie, which simply consists of the Hatter, the Doormouse, and the March Hare making puns about Time. It’s not serious, and it’s not trying desperately hard to be quirky. If the entire movie had followed this tone, perhaps it could have worked.
Instead we’re reminded of just how much Time has to suffer thanks to our heroine
Alice’s next trip back in time finally proves to her that the past can not in fact be changed, and manages to figure out on her own that the Hatter’s family are not dead after all. At first, it looks like perhaps the film can redeem itself. The moral that you cannot change the past but simply learn from it is deeper than I would have expected from a film shallower than a kiddie pool with a leak. Time confronts Alice, and all she has to do right now to change things is give back the chronosphere, apologise profoundly for almost killing Time, and return to the Hatter with the good news.
Instead, she keeps it and jumps through a looking glass. And we get another cringeworthy “girl power” scene where Alice is in an asylum, accused of suffering from “female hysteria”. Once again, the accuser is as over the top and cartoonish as possible. Folks, if you want a character who fights prejudice, don’t make the prejudice villains look like the type that would enter stage to boos and hisses during a school pantomime. And if that wasn’t enough, the entire scene is completely pointless aside from being trailer fuel.
Back in Underland, Alice finds out the true fate of the Hatter’s family, manages to revive him by saying she believes him, and sets off with the others to do battle with the Red Queen. And everything almost goes horribly wrong.
At least this time it’s not directly Alice’s fault.
But, Alice saves the day by simply doing what she should have done in the first place. No one seems to hold anything against her. Not even Time, who she almost murdered. Alice returns, and seeing how much Hatter’s family meant to him, decides to allow her mother to sell away her ship and position as captain, to spend more time with her. Her mother, however, seeing she’s selling it to a man made completely out of straw, decides to refuse the deal. In that one action Alice’s mother proved to be a better feminist hero than Alice throughout the entire movie; as a beaten down woman who finally found the strength to fight back and start fresh, as opposed to the uninteresting thief who almost killed Time.
Is this film one of the worst I’ve watched? No. There are some reasonably charming and funny moments here and there, and the special effects are exceptional. But, once again, this movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be, or who it wants to appeal to. One minute it’s being silly and whimsical, and the next it wants to be a serious action packed adventure, and not in a way that gels well together. Then of course, there’s Alice. She has so little charisma or personality that it’s impossible to support her or her goal. The sad thing is, it feels as though the writer’s could have made her interesting, but were so conflicted on what makes a strong female character that they just made her basically nothing.
This was Alan Rickman’s final role, and I must say, Absalom’s insults towards Alice early on, calling her clumsy and dim witted, are some of the finest in the movie due to their sheer accuracy.