Even though X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t work for me, the principal actors involved seemed to be giving it their all. I really doubt Jennifer Lawrence wakes up in the morning thinking, Thank God I have another X-Men movie to do, but there she is, doing the best she can with, this time around, sloppy material. Alice Through the Looking Glass is the opposite. Almost everyone involved looks so bummed out to be there. Three years ago, Anne Hathaway won an Academy Award. She’s one of the most famous actors in the world. But here she is, playing second fiddle to an animated cat, with literally nothing to do in this movie. She sits a lot.
(I have no idea what kind of contracts everyone signed when the first one came out, but the way I imagine it, all the actors received visits from the goons in Oceans 12, telling them they had to make another Alice movie … or else.)
If nothing else, Alice Through the Looking Glass — directed by The Muppets‘ James Bobin, subbing in for Tim Burton — is probably the least complicated time travel movie ever made. Like, there’s hardly any plot whatsoever. It’s actually remarkable this movie is somehow 108 minutes when pretty much nothing happens. (And this movie has very, very little to do with Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.) That’s probably why Alice Through the Looking Glass has at least five beginnings. You know how people will complain when a movie has “three endings”? (A good example is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.) Alice Through the Looking Glass is the opposite: It’s only about halfway through the movie when it seems to start – and not because it’s so exciting that time just flies by, but because nothing has really happened. Alice basically shows up places, realizes she’s at the wrong place, and starts over. This is not a pleasurable thing to watch.
The Mad Hatter is sad.
That above sentence is the plot of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I swear, that’s it: The Mad Hatter (played as creepily as ever by Johnny Depp) is sad and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) needs to figure out why and make him happy because if he continues to be sad, he will die (borrowing a plot point that worked so well in Revenge of the Sith). Instead of cheering him up with, say, flowers or booze, she goes back in time to find out just what’s bugging him.
Sacha Baron Cohen plays Time himself, who warns Alice that this is not a good idea. Alice doesn’t listen and goes back in time anyway. Not her own real time, but Wonderland time. What’s interesting here is that Cohen is doing some weird voice that teeters back and forth between sounding like Christoph Waltz and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I really can’t tell you if this is intentional or not, but this is for sure happening. It’s the oddest thing.
The first movie, Alice in Wonderland, is sort of the poster child for the “that movie made how much!?” shocked response. It came out only a few short months after Avatar and rode that 3D wave for a cool billion. It’s weird that a sequel didn’t happen much earlier. Alice Through the Looking Glass feels like a movie that should have happened in 2012. Or, probably, not at all. Because that’s the biggest problem with Alice Through the Looking Glass: There’s just not enough story here to make a movie… yet, this movie exists.
But, who knows! Maybe people out there across the world are deeply concerned with the Mad Hatter’s mood. I am not one of these people. But, if after Alice in Wonderland, if you found yourself hoping the Mad Hatter lives a happy life (and you love Christoph Waltz impressions), well, you are in luck.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.