A thoroughly disappointing follow-up to Tim Burton’s massively high-grossing reboot. Mia Wasikowska, Sacha Baron Cohen & some nice CGI design are the only things preventing this movie from being unwatchable.
Alice has become a ship’s captain since her previous adventures in ‘Underland’, but she returns from a swashbuckling trade adventure to discover that her new boss (a jilted suitor) will end her Captain’s commission, take her ship and make her a lowly clerk, out of pure spite.
Her mother has initiated this change, because she worries about Alice – when will she settle down, find a husband and be a ‘normal’ girl, after all?
Distraught (understandably), Alice runs from the room to find Alan Rickman’s magical butterfly Absolem guiding her to a room with a looking glass. It turns out this is a magical portal to Underland; one Alice is happy to dive through to escape her sorry situation and domineering acquaintances.
On arrival we learn that her great friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, of course) has had his own troubles since the last movie – on finding a tiny hat, he is suddenly convinced his family has survived the deadly destruction of their hometown some years hence. All his friends identify this essentially as delusional depression – so, of course, their solution is a. to bring Alice back and b. if necessary, change time itself using the ‘Chronosphere’ to “make the Hatter’s delusion true”.
CBT would be a better option, surely? Alice is up for the task though, because as we all know, the very worst thing you can ever do is not support your friend in their hour of need.
Mia Wasikowska is enchantingly forthright in her depiction of Alice as sincere, thoughtful, friendly and impulsive to a fault. She manages to look at home amongst what probably amounted to 5 tennis balls on sticks set against giant green backdrops, and I did genuinely believe she was happily and comfortably back in Underland.
The magical land itself does occasionally look pretty spectacular too. Town scenes carry a richness of colour and detail similar to those in Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust, and the Time Lord’s palace is an enjoyably cold and mysterious bit of steampunkery too.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Time Lord is also good fun; basic time puns and eccentric law-making combine with a bizarre Austrian-sounding accent and giant shoulder pads to provide a solid, wise-cracking antagonist.
It’s just a shame the rest of the movie couldn’t keep up. And by not keeping up, I mean falling over at the starting line.
Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham Carter’s performances remind me of Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly in ‘Stepbrothers’ – two middle-aged adults acting like children, as if that in itself is great fun. Depp’s Hatter is also unintelligible and child-catcher-from-Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang creepy in his expressions.
The CGI supporting characters (and Anne Hathaway) are wasted, without exception, as set dressing and exposition. They are drained of their powerful personalities in Carroll’s original novel as well as Disney’s hand drawn take, leaving them bored and utterly lacking any agency, relying on Alice to do everything for them.
It all adds up to a murky morality tale about being honest & being yourself, sort of. Was it really worth all that money and time?
I wish the screenwriters had spent longer creating a coherent and original storyline for this movie. It smacks of a desire to just get back to Underland; just put out another movie regardless of quality as quickly as possible – perhaps this is to do with actors’ contracts; perhaps to do with licensing of some kind, but I don’t think anyone will leave thinking it was because there was a great new story to tell.
Captain Alice sailing the high seas, perhaps meeting the Time Lord or other Underland characters in her land this time, would have been a much better platform to build from.
Oh well, there’s always next time?