I’m at the point where I actively dread the release of the latest bewigged-Johnny Depp pantomime. So when Alice Through the Looking Glass opened with the title “Straits of Malacca, 1874,” and went wide with a sailing-ship pursuit in progress, I feared I had time-hopped to Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean 5, an actual unwanted movie set to open next year. (The dread never ends.)
But wait — the captain of the ship is Alice (of Wonderland fame), which made even less sense. Please be a dream sequence, I silently begged, as Alice turned the racing ship on its side, like this was Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift in the Straits of Malacca. But no, Alice, formerly of Lewis Carroll novels and now an anachronistic plaything of Disney script rooms, is a Far East adventurer.
In James Bobin’s film — a completely made-up pile of poorly test-marketed balderdash that bears no allegiance to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland sequel — Captain Alice returns to London, goes to a party in a scandalous Chinese dress, does some proto-feminist drawing-room jujitsu and finally pops through the titular mirror to return to Wonderland.
I could be here all day explaining the nonsensical plot that isn’t: Through the Looking Glass is a collection of set pieces, costumes, familiar characters and Disney-certified bromides about family, all in search of a coherent, compelling story. OK — it’s a quest to find the Mad Hatter’s missing family by going back in time. There’s not one iota of semblance to the novel, which is sad if you enjoyed that work’s clever chessboard structure; the film does feature two flying time machines, if you need a shot of cheese-o steampunk.
And speaking of time — or, more correctly, Time — he is portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen, dressed up like a frontman of a Nordic metal band that, three decades later, still tours small clubs. Time says unfunny things like, “I’m running out of me,” and watching this film, you’ll just wish he goes much much faster.
Mia Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter reprise their roles as Alice and the Red Queen respectively, and I hope these two ladies-who-could-do-better bought something awesome with their paychecks. And dear ol’ Depp is back as the Mad Hatter, dolled up as the unholy love child of Carrot Top and late-career Michael Jackson. But all the clever wigs, drag-queen make-up and kooky contact lenses aren’t enough to distract us from Depp’s self-conscious, preening cosplay. Hatter, as written here, is meant to be funny, likable, poignant even, but mostly I rooted for his quick and painful end. The film is so far from the source material that there is no reason the Mad Hatter isn’t taken out by a ninja-star-wielding White Rabbit in the first scene.