Alice Through the Looking Glass – Review (** 1/2)

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A sequel devised seemingly in spite of a mildly-whelmed potential audience at best, the law of diminishing returns, thrills and giggles is in full effect with this visually exciting if narratively flat follow-up. Not as terrible as you might expect, but hard to call good either.

Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) looks to escape the dire circumstances of her home life, traveling through a mirror back into Wonderland, where she learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is deathly ill, and the only way to save him is to travel back in time and rescue his beloved family.

Yes, it’s as flimsy a primer for a sequel as you’d reasonably expect, with returning screenwriter Linda Woolverton mashing a pile of her own ideas with just a scant few from Lewis Carroll’s source texts. Much of the narrative revolves around the Mad Hatter feeling sad and a childhood misunderstanding between the Red Queen (a typically mental Helena Bonham Carter) and her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), which can’t help but make the stakes feel impossibly low, no matter how often we’re told the opposite.

If the narrative and script are relatively by-the-book fantasy nonsense – with the film’s flimsy time travel logic proving particularly troublesome – the pic does provide plenty of delight as a stylistic exercise. Visual effects and production design are as top notch as expected, though how much this will win you over will depend entirely on your tolerance for manic over-acting and the overall feeling of listless perfunctoriness the outing invites.

Still, there’s Sacha Baron Cohen to liven things up, stealing every scene he’s in as the kinda-villain Time, kitted out in an absurd outfit and rocking an hilariously spot-on Werner Herzog impersonation. It’s just a shame Cohen’s delightful work didn’t have a more coherent whole around which to work.

Wasikowski clearly tries with what she has, but like most of the cast, isn’t able to do much but simply reprise her performance from the first movie. Perhaps we’re the fools for hoping that the film might move Carroll’s characters forward in a meaningful or interesting way.

In short, it’s too long and obnoxious on occasion, but the visual invention speaks for itself, and it doesn’t cause too much offense on the whole. Not good, not bad; it just is.

** 1/2

Alice Through the Looking Glass is in cinemas now

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