I could not decide what was the worst thing to happen to Johnny Depp in 2016: Not getting a deserved Academy Award nomination for “Black Mass,” the ugly and public divorce proceedings he is going through with his wife, Amber Heard, or starring in Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” And while I’m sure he will be able to look back someday and laugh at the first two, the last item may not be so easily snickered at.
In fact, the only humor I found in the enterprise was completely unintentional.
Plus, there is a certain sadness in attending a motion picture you feel in your bones will be an awful experience. I usually do not read reviews prior to viewing a film and this was no exception with Alice Through the Looking Glass, but something just told me this would come to no good in the end. Not that the original version, directed by Tim Burton, was much better and certainly had few people clamoring for an encore.
Six years ago I wrote, “Here’s a word I never thought I would use in describing a Tim Burton film — boring.
“Yes, dull, tedious, monotonous and just plain boring. These are words NO ONE should have to use in relating a film based upon one of the true classics of English literature like ‘Alice In Wonderland,’ but Burton, who has directed some of my favorite films (‘Batman,’ ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ ‘Ed Wood,’ ‘Edward Scissorhands’) somehow manages the impossible. And it’s not to say that Burton does not attempt to give the movie a stunning visual presence, he does, thanks to cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’). Scene after scene are wonderful to behold (this is especially true in 3-D).
“The problem is that the director tries to cram too much into the film’s brief 110-minute running time, not only incorporating “Alice In Wonderland,” but Carroll’s semi-epic poem, ‘Jabberwocky,’ as well as elements of ‘Howards End,’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ and ‘Joan of Arc.’ It’s all far too much for the children the movie is aimed at, as well as the adults who bring them.”
Flash forward to a few days ago and you see that the monotony of the 2010 version still exists, only the story is even less compelling than Burton’s telling of the famous Lewis Carroll story (Carroll actually takes second billing to screenwriter Linda Woolverton, “Maleficent,” here). Now, Alice (Mia Wasikowska, “Crimson Peak,” a mostly emotionless and lethargic Australian actress), whose clumsy teen infatuation with Johnny Depp’s seriously-disturbed Mad Hatter was hard to deal with in the first installment, is now a bona fide sea captain in the 19th century when such positions were available to all women, of course. After escaping vicious pirates by somehow turning the vessel on its side (don’t ask, only in Hollywood . . .), she expects praise for her efforts, only to find that her spurned suitor, Hamish (Leo Bill, “Mr. Turner”) has now married, taken over her father’s company and will no longer finance Alice’s preposterous explorations. He even condescendingly offers her a job as a clerk (well, it IS 1880, after all). In a depressed state (which is what I was quickly falling into, as well), she spies Absolem the Caterpillar (voiced by the late Alan Rickman, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”) who convinces her to go through a mirror and pursue a “Back to the Future” plotline that sees her revisiting Wonderland and all of the creepy computer characters we grew to tolerate back in 2010.
As if things are not bad enough, however, when she returns, she discovers that the Mad Hatter is not only still certifiably insane, but now suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and believes his family (which was supposed killed by another Lewis creation, the Jabberwocky) is alive and well somewhere. As if we still care about this premise, Alice enlists the assistance of Princess Miranda (Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables,” who seems to have given up choosing good roles) and the other not-so-special effects, including Thackery Earwicket/The March Hare (voice of Paul Whitehouse, “Mortdecai”), Mallymkun/The Dormouse (voice of Barbara Windsor, “EastEnders” TV series), the Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry, “Love & Friendship”) and the terribly CGI’d Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voice of Matt Lucas, “Bridesmaids”), among others.
They suggest that the only the only way to save the Hatter from his depressed state is to go back in time and save his parents. When she tries to tell Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, coming off his “amazing” performance in the “The Brothers Grimsby”) her plan, he warns her that you cannot change the past only learn from it. That’s true, so director James Bobin (“Muppets Most Wanted”) ignores that adage and instead of leaving the past — like say, 2010 — alone, he puts us through this newest nonsense.
I digress, sorry. Anyway, with Time (Cohen, by the way, is the best thing about Alice Through the Looking Glass, huffing and chasing Alice in a weird railroad car contraption and giving the picture the few light moments it so desperately craves) on her heels, she goes to when the Hatter ticked off his queen and everyone else; and then back to when the Hatter was a kid, for some reason.
Unfortunately, we are re-introduced to the worst character in either production, Oscar-nominated actress Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”) as the Queen of Hearts, a creation with a huge head. Why she has a huge head is far, far beyond my ability to contemplate, but the movie tries to absurdly explain the deformity. The novelty effect, however, wore out quickly during the first film and now further with this one too, as if that is possible.
Like the reader (and most of the viewers), though, I am tired of explaining this dead-end journey. Suffice it to say, Alice finds that Hatter’s family has been placed into an ant farm and — oh, why do I gone on? What’s the point?!
If Lewis Carroll’s version of Wonderland was (supposedly) gleaned from cocaine use, then Bobin’s vision can only be the result of heroin, crack AND methamphetamines. Now, I cannot prove this, of course, but the results are undeniable.
Was all of this a dream? Was it real? Do we care? Did we just see Johnny Depp look like a cross between Michael Jackson, Ronald McDonald, Tiny Tim and James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (just Google it)? The only thing good in the theater during Alice Through the Looking Glass was the popcorn from the concession stand. Light and buttery with an inclusion of caramel corn to add just the right amount of sweetness. And, after these further adventures through the looking glass, I promise a complete vow of sobriety (or at least until Tim Burton, Depp and Disney Studios make a sequel to “A Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).
Oh, the humanity . . .