Alice in Wonderland and Tim Burton seemed like a perfect match of source material and director, but the film that resulted in 2010 was a disappointment – lacking a sense of magic, and ultimately forgettable. Now, six years later, James Bobin (The Muppets) has brought us Alice Through the Looking Glass, a somewhat belated but, as it turns out, not unwelcome sequel.
This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) must travel back to Wonderland (or ‘Underland’, as it was known in the first film) to try to snap the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) out of a depression brought on by an item he found in the forest, which lead to him to believe that his long-lost family, whom he thought dead, may actually be alive. To do this, Alice must employ the power of the Chronosphere, a device that will allow her to travel through time and revisit past events. In order to reach the Chronosphere, however, Alice must cross paths with Time himself, as personified by Sacha Baron Cohen.
The film succeeds where the previous one failed, in that it attempts to actually have a story, and to tell it. Where the first film got bogged down in a rambling mess of CGI, this sequel establishes that things are at stake, and although some of the backstory feels contrived, it is done well enough that the quest feels meaningful, and the finale can muster up some suspense.
Thankfully, Bobin and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (improving hugely on her screenplay for the first one) give Mia Wasikowska more of a chance to make an impression, so it feels like Alice is actually important beyond people simply talking about her importance. Johnny Depp is still doing his baffling Mad Hatter performance and still treads a fine line between endearing, weird, and just plain annoying, but this time at least has some plot to work with. Most of the rest of the supporting cast return, primarily in tiny cameos, and thankfully Helena Bonham Carter gets to reprise her fun Red Queen role. As Time, Sacha Baron Cohen brings a mix of silliness and surprising weight, and although some of the character’s jokes aren’t really very funny (same goes for his little helpers), the character is well implemented, and his lair has some nice visual touches.
It still all feels a little unfocused and rambling, but this time much less so. There are contrivances in the story and some of the performances still hover on the annoying side, but this sequel is surprisingly a better effort than its predecessor, with some fun action and inventive visuals to enjoy.