Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass

Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass (Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice has returned in a film that offers wondrous imagery but little else.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, which already was a sequel of sorts. Directed by Tim Burton, it imagined Alice as a teenage version of the young girl who once found herself in the eccentric world of the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.

Though admired for its surreal photography and characters, the earlier film was criticized for its ho-hum storytelling. Nevertheless, it was a huge hit, setting the stage for the current release.

Whether or not Looking Glass is equally successful at the box office, it’s sure to draw even more brickbats. Director James Bobin fills the screen with images as odd as anything Burton could have concocted, but the storytelling is blandly uninvolving.  

Set a few years after Wonderland, Looking Glass finds 20-something Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as the captain of the merchant ship her late father once helmed. Though it’s an unconventional career for a 19th century Englishwoman, she’s clearly good at it.

Then, however, she returns home from a three-year voyage to learn the fiancé she once rejected has plotted to take away her ship. Before she can respond, she follows a talking bug through a mirror and again ends up in the land ruled by the evil, bulbous-headed Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter). Here, she has to put her own troubles aside to help out her old friend the Hatter (Johnny Depp), who falls deathly ill after finding startling evidence that his long-lost family may still be alive.

Even though Alice in Wonderland appeared six years ago—before some of its target audience was even born—screenwriter Linda Woolverton makes no attempt to explain the bond between Alice and the Hatter. She simply assumes we know why the Hatter is so important to Alice that she immediately takes off on a seemingly impossible quest to save him. That’s one problem with the film.

A bigger problem is that the quest itself is a ludicrous exercise in excess. It sends Alice off on a perilous journey through time that ends up revealing uninteresting things about uninteresting people—which is to say, Alice and virtually everyone she comes in contact with. Wasikowska, Depp, Carter and the rest of the cast are wasted on flat characters whose actions seem motivated by plot demands and little else.

Conceptually, the film is fascinating. In order to travel into the past, Alice has to steal a device called the “chronosphere” from Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). Her subsequent trip through the ages is depicted with a mixture of steampunk mechanics and stormy visuals.

On every other level, though, the film is a bore. It seems like an uninspired retread of revisionary fairy tales such as Maleficent (also penned by Woolverton) and Wicked.

Yes, the images are striking, but you can’t help wishing they’d been saved for a more worthy adventure.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Skin trumps script in seductive tale

Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, A Bigger Splash is a visual treat. Otherwise, it has little in common with the Disney release—or any Disney release.

A nearly silent Tilda Swinton stars as Marianne Lane, a rock star who’s vacationing on an Italian island with boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) while she recovers from vocal surgery. They seem to spend most of their time lolling around naked and making love.

Then music producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) drops by along with Dakota (Penelope Lannier), a beautiful daughter whose existence he recently discovered.

Harry has a history with Marianne and may or may not harbor feelings for her. Whatever the motives for his visit, he’s the kind of person who insists on dominating his surroundings, making him an unwelcome intrusion for the recuperating Marianne and the laid-back Paul.

Meanwhile, Dakota seems to take perverse pleasure in flaunting her sexuality around Paul, who does his best to ignore her.

Director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) films the heavy-breathing drama in a sensuous style that takes equal pleasure in viewing the Mediterranean scenery and the characters’ toned flesh. That helps to make up for a script that lacks depth or credibility.

Harry is a conniving, amoral prick—until he’s not. Penelope is a flirtatious mean girl—until she’s not. Marianne is so passive that it’s hard to believe she ever attained rock stardom.

There’s some fun to be had in watching Fiennes chew the scenery or dance around to known or unknown rock tunes, but the movie’s main charms are strictly visual. And, let’s face it, strictly carnal.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)


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