34. Alice Through the Looking Glass

Johnny Depp kind of annoys the crap out of me.  I don’t think he’s untalented.  I don’t think he’s a bad person.  I don’t hate him or wish him ill will.  But I think he has come to rely more on over-the-top zaniness than actual acting.  He can act.  He just chooses not to, more often than not, nowadays.  And it has nothing to do with his role selection.  It’s possible to take these big, fun roles and still act.  But he instead just acts as silly as possible and cashes the checks.

It’s our fault, really.  We rewarded him so handsomely for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow that he quickly understood that he doesn’t need to do much of anything else.  And in the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t matter too much.  Let the guy make his money.  But it bothers me when others who are putting more work and effort into their performance are overshadowed by his schtick.

Others like Mia Wasikowska.  I wasn’t crazy about Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and it was mostly due to the overemphasis on Depp’s Mad Hatter.  The Hatter has never been more than a strong supporting player in Alice’s stories.  Until Burton cast Depp.  And then he’s the star.  It’s Alice’s tale; let her shine.

So, despite switching out Tim Burton as director for James Bobin, I was under no assumptions that  this particular telling of Alice would be any different.  Why should it be?  The first film made over $1 billion (yep.  See for yourself!).  Still, I’ve always been a fan of Alice’s adventures, starting with the animated Disney feature, through reading Lewis Carroll’s books, and then watching various other live-action adaptations throughout the years (Sammy Davis, Jr., as the Caterpillar, anyone?  Right?  I liked that one.)  As always, I sat down hopeful.  Especially since my last post so hurt my heart to write.

It turns out that my fears weren’t entirely warranted.  I was relieved to see, as the story unfolds, that Alice takes the spotlight, front and center.  Yes, the story is propelled forward by the Hatter, but Depp steps to the side and allows Wasikowska to take the lead and the vast majority of the screen time.

Equally surprising is that Through the Looking Glass is more fun, more entertaining, more unpredictable, and much better paced than Burton’s initial installment.  Even better, the story is tighter, smoother, and more complex.  What I especially loved is that there are no true heroes or villains.  The protagonists make mistakes.  The antagonists are justified in their actions or – if not their actions – their feelings.  It breaks from a formula that is so common it’s just become expected in virtually every film.  I found that refreshing.

Also refreshing is the look of the film.  Every single art department earns three times whatever they were actually paid.  All of the designs – set, character, costume – are almost overwhelmingly gorgeous.  Throw in excellent set decoration to top it off and we have the nicest looking film I’ve seen in a long time.  Due to logistical and travel reasons, I saw this in regular 3D rather than IMAX 3D and I regret it.  If you see this film (which I ultimately recommend you do), see it in IMAX 3D if it’s at all plausible for you to do so.  When it hits blu-ray, I’m not sure if I’ll buy the 3D in order to fully immerse myself again or the 4K (if Disney is supporting it by then).  Both will be astounding.

Can I mention Anne Hathaway?  Well, it’s my column, so I’ve decided I’m going to mention Anne Hathaway.  In this particular role, she isn’t pushed very hard.  She does what she needs to and she does it well.  In general, though, she rocks it every time out.  But, apparently, we’re supposed to hate her.  Shut up.  Go away.  She’s fantastic.  As I said, she isn’t challenged in Through the Looking Glass as she has a relatively small and easy role.  But when she is challenged, she delivers.  And while so many bandwagoners go on and on about Heath Ledger’s Joker (which was great.  I’m not saying it’s not.  Take your troll comments elsewhere.), I’m over here pointing out that Hathaway completely took over The Dark Knight Rises and stole that film as Catwoman.  She WAS Catwoman and that is my favorite live-action portrayal of any DC Comics character, to this day.  So leave her alone.  She hasn’t done anything to anybody.

So, after last night’s huge disappointment, today I got a pleasant surprise from Alice Through the Looking Glass.  I will unquestionably watch this film more often than the original.  Injected with an energy and inventiveness that was painfully lacking from Tim Burton’s original, Through the Looking Glass is a fast, fun, light adventure with heart and depth, all while being enjoyable by any person of any age.  I can’t ask for more from a big-budget summer blockbuster.  I hope you see it!  (And I hope you see it in IMAX!)

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