Movie Review: Alice Through the Looking Glass
Johnny Depp reprises his role as the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice sequel, but the one-time teen idol feels like a cross between a zombie Madonna and Ronald McDonald
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: James Bobin
Running time: 1hr 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: Parental Guidance
By Katherine Monk
Just who does Johnny Depp think he is? He’s supposed to be playing the Mad Hatter, but caked in white face paint, wearing a prosthetic space between his teeth, and buried behind lizard-like contact lenses, he seems to be shooting for a cross between Madonna, Lucille Ball and Ronald McDonald.
It’s creepy. Yet, expected. After watching him disappear behind prosthetics in the role of Whitey Bulger in the movie Black Mass, you get the feeling Depp doesn’t even trust his own face anymore, preferring to hide behind costumes and pancake instead of capital-A ‘Acting!’
It’s sad, really, because Depp is supposed to be the draw in this Tim Burton take on Lewis Carroll, but as this second feature makes abundantly clear, he’s the biggest liability because he feels so artificial.
Making things even more desperate, this is more his story than Alice’s.
Opening up on the high seas, we’re introduced to a grown-up Alice (Mia Waskikowska), now captain of a ship trying to escape a band of marauding pirates. It feels like a dream sequence, but it’s sold as real: Alice took over her father’s vessel and now works for the merchant she turned down at the altar.
When the merchant decides girls can’t be captains, Alice shuts herself in a room and discovers a mirror that magically transports her back to Wonderland. Somewhat changed since her last visit, Wonderland is in now in mourning over the Hatter (Johnny Depp). He’s not dead, but his spirit is ghostly after an encounter with his past leaves him shattered: He believes the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) killed his whole clan, and worse yet, that his father never actually loved him.
For the denizens of this warped, candy-coloured demi-monde, Alice represents the Hatter’s best chance at spiritual recovery. She’s brave, she’s adventurous and she’s always believed anything is possible.
Yet, when the Hatter asks Alice to bring his family back to life, Alice utters the word she used to loathe: “Impossible.”
How could a simple human possibly reanimate the dead? She would need to turn back time, and for that, you’d need a time machine – or, what Wonderland calls a chronosphere.
Fortunately, Wonderland does have a chronosphere. It’s the battery pack for the big clock run by Time (Sacha Baron Cohen), an omnipotent creature fashioned from cogs and gears. Time is a friend to no man, or woman, but he does have a thing for the Queen of Hearts – which means director James Bobin (Flight of the Concords, Da Ali G Show) is given ample opportunity to throw Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen together – and what could be better than these two chewing cartoon scenery?
Bonham Carter has already surrendered to silliness several times over to bring her hubby’s strange visions to light, and Baron Cohen is a serial stooge. So even though he seems to be impersonating Werner Herzog for the duration, he’s got the right body language, timing and delivery to keep his scenes ticking.
Wasikowska finds some welcome backbone as the grown-up Alice, and we even get to hear the velvet tones of Alan Rickman once more as Absolem – all of which works, but there’s plenty here that doesn’t.
Beyond the irritatingly insincere presence of Depp as zombie Madge, we’re also introduced to a princess named Mirana (Anne Hathaway). She wears white sequins and struts around in blanched taffeta, but Mirana may not be pure.
As the younger sister to the Queen of Hearts, she may hold the secret to the Queen’s abnormally large head, as well as her vengeful attitude toward Alice, the Hatter and all the others who have found love and loyalty on life’s journey.
It’s an important part, but Hathaway feels completely out of place. She never quite nails the right tone for the part and ends up feeling like an extra in a high school play.
She and Depp are the biggest human flaws in the film, but even the computer-generated images feel primitive by today’s standards – ensuring CGI characters such as Tweedledee and Tweedledum feel as flat as the humor.
Just about every joke dies for two reasons: There’s no reservoir of empathy in this emotionally distant franchise, and the script is just plain lame, delivering the same time-sensitive jokes over and over again.
And yet, as a whole, this is not a bad ride. Bobin pulls enough of the pieces together to give us a decent piece of escapist fantasy – even though the one thing you may be desperate to escape is Depp himself.
THE EX-PRESS, May 27, 2016