Review’s up on Sunday, because I decided to embrace the White Rabbit and be a little late.
Pop quiz: No googling. What was the highest grossing live action movie of 2010?
Did you guess Inception? Or the final Harry Potter movie?
Well you’re wrong on both.
2010’s Alice in Wonderland is likely the quietest billion dollar grosser of all time. All over the world, millions of people saw this movie. And millions of them came out saying “meh.” But still, any time a movie’s gross reaches ten digits, a sequel seems mandatory. And the studio took a full six years to release one. A sign of indecision, perhaps? Or careful effort?
I saw the bad reviews. I watched its Rotten Tomatoes score plummet. I saw my Youtube reviewers give it bad grades. I didn’t listen. I quite liked the first movie, after all. And even when I read the negative reviews I felt as though I’d like this movie perfectly fine. So I forged on, critics be damned, and forked over $9.75 yesterday with a smile.
I should’ve listened.
Maybe it’s a case of a movie making the worst of first impressions. Be warned: You may have to sit through a Pink music video before the movie actually starts. And the movie itself certainly gets off on the wrong foot, with a poorly rendered CGI ship chase where Alice, now a Mary Sue ship captain, evades a fleet of Chinese pirates by commanding an impossible maneuver. Her crew says if they do it they’ll sink. But they don’t because… Alice believes harder or something? It’s real bad. I sat down with a smile on my face and it took all of five minutes for the movie to wipe it off.
I’ve actually written about the 1865 book before, on my sister blog. In that post, I talk about how the main reason why the book has endured all this time is its rebelliousness- specifically its nonsense story throwing convention to the wind. Obviously making a summer blockbuster true to the book in its nonsense plot would be a gigantic gamble. So I don’t hold it against its predecessor that it created a story to tell with Carroll’s characters. The story was more background stuff- the centerpiece of the movie was its trippy visual pinache. The undoing of the sequel was making plot the focus point.
There’s so much of it. There’s so much setup. It seeks to bring backstory and sense to a world which requires nonsense in order to work. Wonderland doesn’t need explaining. It’s just there. It’s weird. You deal with it. But in Looking Glass we’re given story elements that have no need to be in this world. We learn about the Mad Hatter’s family. We learn about the reason why the Red Queen turned evil and split apart from her sister. We learn about this thing called the Kronosphere which keeps the Wonderland universe alive. And it provokes a question each time: Who cares?
Seriously. Who cares?
Who reads the book- or watches the first movie- and goes “you know what we need? We need a tragic backstory to the Mad Hatter!” Why do you take the Red Queen, purposely constructed as a one-note, irredeemably evil and irascible character, and try and retroactively justify her? Wonderland works on two things: whimsy and charm. The movie’s story isn’t whimsical, it just feels forced. Its core elements rehashed from older and better franchises and it can’t decide whether it wants to be a deeper, more emotionally mature piece or a sillier and more jokey one. It has little charm, as most of the charming side characters (including even last entry’s deuteroganist in the Hatter) are sidelined. It’s pretty much just Mia Wasikowska’s rather dull Alice hopping back and forth between the movie’s various plots.
As I said, there’s so much plot. There’s so many stories going on, both in the real world and Wonderland, none of which are all that interesting. There’s a time travel element to the movie that’s heavily underutilized and setup in a way that makes no sense. Which would be good I guess if they were trying for the nonsense of the source, but they aren’t. It’s an attempt to make Wonderland a more traditional fantasy land, with lore and law and background. And the lore doesn’t work. “We’ve already time travelled,” says the White Queen. But… the way to time travel is to break into the castle of Time itself and steal his Macguffin, and if you do it, it’ll threaten to unravel all of Wonderland. Soooo I doubt they’ve actually done it.
It’s stuff like that that make it clear how little effort was actually put into making this movie. It has an occasional amusing joke or visual flair (Time’s castle is breathtaking) and there is ONE clever story beat, but overall the movie feels like a rough draft. As if an editor is yet to come and view it and give it some basic corrections. I’m really, really disappointed.
The good news? Tim Burton didn’t direct this. Instead, he opted to adapt Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the first trailer played during the previews. It looks amazing. So there’s that.
Ever pick up a chocolate chip cookie and take an eager bite out of it, only to find that it’s actually Oatmeal Raisin? That’s this movie for me. I picked it out thinking it was gonna be something far different than what it was. Maybe part of the fault is on my expectations, but still. This ain’t no chocolate chip. Skip it.