Tim Burton’s CGI-laden adventure fantasy Alice in Wonderland was dazzling to look at but weak on plot. He’s relinquished the director’s chair to James Bobin (maker of The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted), but the same is even truer of sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Departing even further from Lewis Carroll’s original tales, the film opens with feisty, proto-feminist Alice (again played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska) performing feats of derring-do as a sea captain in the South China Seas.
She easily outwits the Malay pirates besetting her in the Straits of Malacca but the pompous chauvinists awaiting her in England, including the chinless wonder (Leo Bill) who was once her fiancé, prove a greater threat to her ship, the Wonder.
In short order, though, she’s back in the surreal world of Wonderland – or Underland as the film versions confusingly have it – slipping through the surface of a country-house mirror to discover that her old friend the Mad Hatter (an overly hammy Johnny Depp) is wasting away from sadness at the loss of his family.
Putting things right turns out to be a very convoluted affair. Alice pinches a time-travelling gizmo, the Chronosphere, from Time himself, a half-human, half-mechanical autocrat with a pronounced German accent, played by Sacha Baron-Cohen, and she gets to perform further acts of pluck and bravado as she hops back and forth in time.
We learn the origins of the enmity between Helena Bonham Carter’s homicidal Red Queen and Anne Hathaway’s extremely fey White Queen, and reacquaint ourselves with such familiar characters as gormless twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and caterpillar-turned-butterfly Absolem (silkily voiced by the late Alan Rickman, to whom the film is dedicated).
Compared with Carroll’s brilliantly topsy-turvy logic, however, it all seems very muddled, and the original’s whimsical charm is definitely missing.
Certificate PG. Runtime 113 mins. Director James Bobin