Hi! Hollywood here.
Were you looking for a movie that gives the origins of all your favorite Alice in Wonderland characters? Like the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen and the Chesire Cat and umm…Anne Hathaway? What, no?
Well, what about a time-traveling adventure that fits the whole Alice in Wonderland world into some standard fantasy tropes with chosen ones and destinies and stupid syllable-trainwreck names? No?
What about a committee of people trying to replicate Lewis Carroll’s writing? NO?!
Well, fuck you, you’re getting all that anyway.
Seriously, I have no idea who was asking for this, but I may not be the right audience. I hate hate HATED the first Alice in Wonderland, which represented to me all the worst tendencies of Hollywood studio filmmaking while also making about a billion dollars.
That hatred still didn’t prepare me for how horrifyingly painful an experience Alice Through The Looking Glass was to deal with. I’ve had depressive episodes that filled me with less violent self-loathing than this eternal and endless nightmare of an experience.
Alice in Wonderland seems to be the rotting pustule on the otherwise smooth face of live-action Disney right now. Their string of largely successful and creative live-action films, both original and live-action remakes, has been broken up by this inexplicably successful now-series, which is an absolute dearth of creativity by a bunch of people who I have to imagine have better things to do, like grocery shopping or renewing their driver’s license or something.
This is usually the part where I’d summarize what happened, but fuck this film I’m not giving it the dignity of pretending that anyone thought about this plot. You get the letter from Hollywood above for your summary because that had more care put in than anyone involved gave this film.
Through the Looking Glass is a film that seriously sets up its protagonist as the largest threat to the ENTIRE UNIVERSE and simply handwaves away that she’s ever at fault for anything. I mean, I get it, she’s doing it for her friend. But that reasoning relies entirely on you to have seen the first one, because they sure as shit don’t do the work to set it up here.
It’s also a film that resolves through sheer dumb luck. Seriously. Not gonna spoil it. It’s dumb. I almost walked out. It was time #15 I was about to just bolt for the door.
You know, I hate being nice to movies by saying “At least it’s pretty,” but I can’t even do that. Any good design work is pretty much just a holdover from the first movie and anything new is standard and bland fantasy work. Imposing castles and mazes that you’ve seen 1000 times before. In fact, I’m pretty sure Time’s Castle is pulling double duty this weekend as Apocalypse’s Pyramid. It’s nice to find a hard-working CGI set out there.
Lest I be accused of kicking a film while it’s down, I’m not gonna pick on the performances. I mean, they’re bad. But I’m pretty sure it’s none of these actors’ fault, I don’t think they were acting to anything. Between all the CGI creatures and CGI sets and CGI perils and Johnny Depp, who I’m convinced is now simply a sentient funny hat, I don’t think it would have ever possible to find a good performance in this movie.
I’m not a “Fuck CGI” guy. CGI is perhaps one of the most powerful tools filmmakers have ever been given. But dammit guys, you still have physical elements in these films. Make your actors act to them. Give them something to work with, because of course everyone is bland when there’s nothing to think about or react to. When you’re just checking off a set of tics that the character has, doing the rhotacism because it’s what the Red Queen does, it’s boring. It’s checklist acting, and at that point, what’s the fucking point of having a person acting?
But I’m not sure having actual people acting matters, because the way this film is shot, I’m not convinced anyone was on set at the same time. Up to and including the director.
It’s not that James Bobin is bad. Both his Muppets movies are wonderful and I love Flight of the Conchords. But I just think he becomes another journeyman here, told to point the camera at a couple hundred million dollars and he has no idea what to do with it. Any sense of fun or play is gone, just a man pushing a camera to get a check.
There’s nothing Bobin brings into the film. But to be fair, no one brings anything. There’s no creative voice. There’s just a dull, listless shuffle through obligations. And that’s the ultimate problem with this film, why it inspires in me such rancor.
The biggest dagger hanging over this film and the one it would never be capable to pull from deep within its eye is that this adaptation world really does remove anything fun or interesting about Alice in Wonderland. I’m not a huge endorser of blind faithfulness, but there are essential cores that enduring stories have that you have to keep.
Through The Looking Glass (and by extension, its precedent film Alice in Wonderland)’s greatest sin is that it seeks to impose rules and structures and standardized tropes onto the literary work’s chaos. It turns the Jabberwocky from a surrealist play with language to just another monster. It finds a world of mystery and tries to demystify.
At the end of the day, Through the Looking Glass isn’t bullshit because it’s slow or boring or stupid or dull or ugly or wastes Mia Wasikowska or wastes Anne Hathaway or wastes Sacha Baron Cohen or continues the association of Tim Burton with Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp and being totally awful or wastes a good director or breaks a Disney streak or is more painful to sit through two hours of than a root canal without anesthesia.
It’s bullshit, because it’s the opposite of creativity and the opposite of wonder and the opposite of cinema. It seeks to find a world of mystery and joy and rather than capture it on film, it captures it in a cage. It parades it in front of us and makes us try to understand it the same way we understand everything else. It strangles the life out of it.
Alice Through the Looking Glass makes the world just a little more boring through its existence.