Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG.)
Directed by James Bobin.
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sasha Baron Cohen and Matt Lucas. 108 mins
The follow up to a film that made over $1 billion at cinemas ought to be widely anticipated but Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland is one of the least liked film ever to break that barrier* – and that was back in 2010 when $1 billion was still considered a lot of money. People have grown tired of the Depp/Burton pairing and that first film was lucky enough to be the first major 3D film to come along after Avatar and was carried along in its wake, even though its 3D was one of those cruddy post production conversions that did so much to dampen enthusiasm for Cameron's great technical leap forward.
So, having got its disappointment in early, I'd say this was an improvement: what was good in the first film (Wasikowska's grown up Alice, Bonham Carter's Red Queen, Matt Lucas as the Tweedles Dum and Dee) is still good and what was annoying then (Depp's Mad Hatter, the need to make Lewis Carroll's character's fit into a standard narrative) is less annoying now.
No sooner is Alice back in Underland than she is being sent off on a mission, a mission unpossible. Instead of Narnia, this time they are rehashing the plot of X-Men Days of Future Past, with Alice going back in time to save the Hatter and his family.
Though Burton has moved on to producing duties, handing over to the director of the recent Muppets movies and Flight of the Concords on TV, the look of the film largely follows that of the original. It is still just another incontinent display of visual effects wizardry but the effects are genuinely impressive, much more than the first one and this time the 3D is effective.
Carroll had no use for redemptive arcs and emotional resolutions but I think he might have had some fun with computers. There are moment's in this that are weirdly lovely and touchingly bizarre, and occasionally you think that these might genuinely reflect Carroll's imagination. Time is a character here, an unreasonable tyrant, (played by Cohen with a Werner Herzog accent) and in his palace there are two places where pocket watches hang from the sky, one of these the ticking clocks of the still living and another the stopped clocks of the deceased. There is an ocean of time that Alice has travel through. The visualisation of the Tweedles is particularly inspired, and the film keeps cutting back to them for reaction shots because they are always so appealing and it can't help but improve a scene.
One scene they fail to make the most of though is the title one. The idea of passing through a mirror is such a magical one but they fritter it away in a blur of special effects.
* The competition though is much more intense than I'd thought with two Pirates sequels, Phantom Menace and the first Hobbit.