2010's 'Alice in Wonderland', despite being a box-office hit, was very much a lesser Tim Burton (whose 80s and 90s outings were fantastic, especially 'Edward Scissorhands' and 'Ed Wood', but he became hit and miss after his career low-point 'Planet of the Apes') film.
That is not to say that it was completely terrible, there were some great things like the beautiful visuals and some good performances, just that with the amount of talent there was it could have been much more with better execution of its story. Like 'Alice in Wonderland', its follow up this year's 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' is a very loose adaptation of the source material, where the only recognisable elements are the title, some of the characters and that Alice goes through a mirror, which will be of a disappointment for some.
While there are people who think 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' is superior to 'Alice in Wonderland', there are also others who think 'Alice in Wonderland' is better. For this reviewer, there are things that are improved in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' but the story in 'Alice in Wonderland' is less flawed (while still being so) and it uses its cast better.
Starting with the good points and the improvements, 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' looks wonderful like its predecessor. It maintains the very bright and eye-poppingly colourful look of 'Alice in Wonderland', while at the same time giving a softer and at times darker look. The chronosphere and time travel effects are very well executed, and it's exquisitely filmed. The standout set design is Time's castle, and Time's costume also stands out for the costumes. After being unimpressed by her in 'Alice in Wonderland', Mia Waskikowska's acting as Alice has come on leaps and bounds. She speaks with more assertion and has much more expression in her face, the character also having more purpose and intent.
There are also a few good performances, namely an imposing and menacing but also amusing and sincere Sacha Baron Cohen as Time, who often comes very close to stealing the film, and a deliciously over the top but also tragic Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. There are a couple of good scenes, the opening scene is atmospheric and nail-biting and the scene in Time's castle is entertaining, visually stunning and has some suspense. Who cannot help love the seconds and minutes, they're adorable? Wilkins being one of those characters who does raise a chuckle but it's easy to feel a little pity for. The tea scene is sort of fun and has a rare sense of dread, but spoilt somewhat by going overboard with the time references and jokes.
Danny Elfman's score has some nice moments, with some rousing and beautifully orchestrated and it at least fits. It is a very typical fantasy adventure score however, and it is one of Elfman's more forgettable efforts. Whereas many of his other outings (namely 'Edward Scissorhands' with the opening titles and "the ice dance") have at least one great and memorable track, this reviewer honestly struggled to remember anything from this. Most of the acting does not make an impression. Even when Mad Hatter is restrained and in torment Johnny Depp manages to try far too hard, his facial expressions constantly betray him wanting to go over the top and his voice bizarrely keeps going up and down with a slipping in and out accent and distracting lisp, this makes him come over as annoying which makes it far more difficult to engage with Alice's want to help him. On the other side of the spectrum Anne Hathaway looks completely lost, she looks beautiful but her performance has a lot of listless fluttery hand gestures and emotionless line delivery.
Regarding everybody else, there is a lot of talent wasting here. Lindsay Duncan is compassionate but with little to do, but Geraldine James and Rhys Ifans are wasted and Leo Bill, even for a character meant to not be very nice, is punchably obnoxious. On the most part the voice cast are not used that well, with the most lines if remembered correctly coming from Paul Whitehouse, Matt Vogel and Timothy Spall (the first two's contributions entertain the most), though Alan Rickman in his final (posthumously) released film exudes authority and suavity even with very few lines. Despite noble efforts from Stephen Fry (once again purr-fect as the Cheshire Cat, but with not enough to do) and Barbara Windsor, their characters are too much in the background (true for most of Alice's friends) and the film couldn't have wasted Michael Sheen any more if it tried.
Where 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' falls down most is in the script and story. Like 2014's 'Maleficent', Linda Woolverton's script is lazy with a lot of clichés, dumbness, very forced humour and too many strands not elaborated upon enough. The characters are bland and one-dimensional mostly with only Alice and Red Queen getting any half-way successful development (Mad Hatter would have been so as well if Depp's performance was better), and the voiced characters are too much in the background. While there is more going on here than in 'Alice in Wonderland', it's still by the numbers and without much heart or soul, with Carroll's kookiness, darkness, unique colour and sense of nonsense not much in sight. As a result of too many plot strands and the film leaving a lot of them half-baked with not given enough explanation (especially with the chronosphere and travels through time), the story is not easy to follow. The pacing is all over the map, with some rambling and drawn out parts (Alice's back story has more conflict and is marginally more interesting but take too much of the film up) and other parts feel rushed (much more time could have spent on the scenes when the film travels back in time).
In conclusion, not a complete mess but less than inspired.
Review by TheLittleSongbird from the Internet Movie Database.