This James Bobin-directed sequel to 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” takes us back to the whimsical world with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in an attempt to save the Mad Hatter.
BE WARNED: ALTHOUGH THIS ISN’T A FULL SPOILER REVIEW, THERE ARE SOME SPOILED PLOT POINTS INVOLVED.
3 years after the events of the first movie, Alice is captain of her own ship, sailing many routes on the high seas. When she arrives back in London from China, she is faced with many real world obstacles that would prevent her from doing what she loves with her life: namely, a lien is placed against her mother’s house in exchange for her ship in order for her to work for the newly appointed Lord Ascot (Leo Bill). She is soon led by Absolem (Alan Rickman in his final role) through a mirror and back to Wonderland. Here she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is not himself lately and is even more mad than usual. A plan is quickly hatched by his friends to save him.
Here’s where things get interesting (even for Wonderland): the plan is for Alice to go back in time. I want to repeat that just so it sinks in: ALICE IS TO GO BACK IN TIME and try to discover the truth to the events that have led the Hatter to his current state. This requires her to visit Time (played by newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen) who also serves as Wonderland’s Grim Reaper persona. She is tasked to borrow (eventually steal) the Chronosphere, a device that will facilitate Alice’s time travel adventure. Now, Alice is seeing the backstory to almost every major character in Wonderland while being pursued by Time himself.
*Sigh* OK, this movie, while visually gorgeous, simply does not hold my attention plot-wise. The visual effects are top-notch, but I could not bring myself to care even a tiny bit about the stakes involved. The Mad Hatter has never been a terribly compelling character, not someone who could spark a whirlwind adventure though time, anyway. I don’t feel much compassion for the Red Queen (returning Helena Bonham Carter), even though she was slighted by someone who should have been a force for good. As for Time, he seems to be an understanding character, then a rage-filled, unstoppable opponent, then an understanding character again. I get the fluidity of Wonderland, but that fluidity should not confuse your characters’ motivations.
Ok, let’s get to the heart of this movie: time travel. Time travel? They didn’t even cover it up with anything clever or whimsical. The second The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) speaks the words “You’ll have to go back in time…” I immediately frowned. It lacked the Lewis Carroll charm of “Travel through the tennyburrough tree in the slagen tarvs.”. It was simply: “Here’s an Arc Reactor-style ball powering all of time that transforms into an H.G. Wells-style time machine.”
Even a special pendant would have helped me a bit. Time travel is a tricky plot device as it is, and, if not done well, it is often seen as a hackneyed one. We didn’t even need the time machine to move the plot along. There could have been a dusty, long-forgotten viewing orb to help Alice solve Hatter’s mystery.
Of course, that could have robbed us of some spectacular character designs, namely that of Time himself, but I don’t doubt he could have been placed in another fashion, especially since he decides when a Wonderland denizen’s “time is up” and transfers them, symbolized by individual pocket watches, from the chaotic area of the living to the organized area for the deceased. His character’s wishy-washy motivations notwithstanding, I did enjoy Cohen’s performance, as well as Carter’s portrayal of the Red Queen (her inflections and facial expressions lightened my grumblings a bit). Anne Hathaway’s White Queen was a bit melodramatic and I was taken aback when her character, seeming to be a protagonist, had two opportunities to come clean about her past and still chose to lie or remain silent.
This was also the movie that clinched the idea that Johnny Depp just isn’t a draw for me to go to the movies any more. I realized that the last movie I saw him in was Tusk, but that was more because I’m a Kevin Smith fan, Depp just happened to be in it. Same with 21 Jump Street. The last movie I actively sought out with Depp in the lead role was Public Enemies. Everything else, was passed over by me or it was a matter of “Well, I’ve seen the rest of the movies. Might as well see this one.” (That’s how I ended up watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)
Maybe it’s his Mad Hatter costume that rubs me the wrong way, I can’t be sure. I just know that “But, Johnny Depp is in it!” isn’t a compelling rebuttal for me anymore.
All-in-all, it may be something to take the kids to and distract them for a couple of hours: they will enjoy the amount of design and color that was packed into this movie, but don’t expect much more. I was really hoping for something a little more unique from a man who directed the last two Muppet movies and screenplay by Linda Woolverton, who did the screenplay for the 2010 Alice movie and has been involved with some of Disney’s most beloved movies such as The Lion King, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, and Mulan.
Try to avoid paying full price if you can, and if they make another, can we put Tim Burton back as director?
Thanks for reading,