I wasn’t a huge fan of the marketing for Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to 2011’s Tim Burton-directed live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The marketing seemed inconsistent in tone on a number of fronts and never really offered a clear value proposition for the audience to latch on to or reason to see the movie. It’s actually worse than that.
To recap, it’s been a few years since Alice (Mia Wasikowska), has been in Wonderland. In that time she’s become a successful captain of her own merchant ship, an independent woman when that was a rare breed. Suddenly she’s summoned back to help the Hatter (Johnny Depp), who has fallen into depression after coming upon something that makes him believe his parents, long thought dead, are actually alive. So she steals a time-travel device from Time himself (Sasha Baron-Cohen) and embarks on a quest to find out where they might be, causing all sorts of havoc and problems as she bumbles through the past.
There are multiple problems with the movie itself, many of which have been pointed out by the critics who reviewed it when it first came out last year. Alice is a terrible character in this movie, largely because she never takes the time to think anything through. She’s so headstrong that almost all of the crises of the story are her doing, the result of her leaping into action without considering the potential consequences of her undertakings. To say she blunders through things is to be generous, it’s more like the screenwriter used her as a tool of mayhem to advance things and keep the action going from one moment to the next, regardless of cohesiveness.
The movie also falls into the category of recent films that ask us to understand and sympathize with the villain, in this case the Red Queen. It turns out events were put into action that resulted in the disappearance of The Mad Hatter’s family because of a childhood misunderstanding between her and her sister Mirana, putting Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) on the path to villainy. So it’s not that she’s just a bad person, it’s that someone was mean to her when she was a child and so we need to forgive her later actions while condemning those of her sister (Anne Hathaway). That’s fine, but it also means that once again the audience is asked to excuse evil, to nod and ultimately feel bad about rooting against her because she’s been bullied. I’m not a fan of this trend.
To the point of the story’s big bad, the marketing also head-faked the audience to an astounding degree. All the trailers and other elements point to Time being the antagonist of the story, the one who’s trying to foil Alice’s plans and consign Hatter to his fate. In reality, he’s simply trying to execute his charge, to safeguard the timeline and so chases her to stop the chaos she’s causing. There’s nothing particularly malevolent in his actions, he’s just trying to do his job and stop her from creating problems. But she keeps blowing past him and insisting her cause is more just, leaving a wake of problems in her wake. Time isn’t the villain here. Instead it’s the Red Queen and again, we’re asked to understand her behavior and make allowances for it.
It’s not a great movie and while it seems alright in the moment, anytime you stop and think about what’s gone on in the last 10 minutes, much less after the movie as a whole has finished, it’s less than the sum of its parts. That, combined with how it’s substantially different from what was presented in the marketing campaign, helps explain why it didn’t catch on with theatrical audiences.