Spoilers may follow
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, during the famous Mad Tea Party scene, the Hatter explains that Time is a person, and is responsible for him being in a never-ending tea party. When the Hatter sung for the Queen of Hearts, he “murdered the time”, so Time punished the Hatter by making it always six o’clock. Disney’s 2016 film Alice Through the Looking Glass is built almost entirely on that small moment, making Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) one of the main characters and the main catalyst for the plot, but that is really the only thing interesting about it.
Don’t let the title fool you. The only thing Alice Through the Looking Glass really has in common with its namesake is a scene near the beginning, where we get an impressive-looking reproduction of the book’s looking-glass living room, complete with smiling clock. There Alicee meets the chessmen, who were integral to the plot of the original book, and Humpty Dumpty, who gave one of the book’s most memorable scenes, and after she leaves the room, the chess pieces and Humpty are never seen or mentioned again. It doesn’t really matter, though, that Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t a very faithful adaptation, because it isn’t a good film on its own.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland, where her old friend The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has found the first hat he ever made – which he thinks is a sign that his family, thought killed by the Jabberwock, are still alive. The Hatter falls unwell when Alice doesn’t believe him, so Alice decides to go to the castle of Time and seize a device (which resembles a smaller version of that structure Dr. Manhattan created in Watchmen) that will allow her to travel through time to hopefully save the Hatter’s family.
As Alice goes through the oceans of time (the same ones Gary Oldman’s Dracula travelled through?), she happens upon the origins of her enemy the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). As it turns out, her turn to the dark side begun when her sister stole a tart and blamed her for it, and continues when, as an adult, she throws a wobbly when the Hatter laughs at her big head. The Wicked Witch’s origin in Oz: The Great and Powerful was cloying and badly-done, and it is even more so here. Lewis Carroll making a trial scene based around a nursery rhyme was novel; having the Red Queen begin her path to being a murderous overlord over tarts is eye-rolling.
Still, Carter, along with Cohen, seem to be the only two performances that show any interest. Wasikowska and Depp don’t make their characters all that memorable, and you are unlikely to care about their problems. The whole adventure is to save the Hatter, and yet one never really feels he should be saved, especially if the only way to save him could potentially destroy the universe.
At least the visuals are pretty good, though a downgrade from the previous instalment. The Hatter gets a cute little top hat house to live in, and areas like Time’s castle and the Red Queen’s new lair reminded me of Alice: Madness Returns (as did a very brief scene where Alice was committed to an institution, which ended up pointless in the bigger picture).
So Alice Through the Looking Glass is mediocre even by the low standards set by the original. Some of the visuals look rather nice but you’d be better off just rereading the film’s namesake.