Say this for the Alice film series: Despite colossal budgets, elaborate fantasy world-building, and prominent summer release dates, no one involved seems to have worried much about plot. In Tim Burton’s 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, the titular heroine (Mia Wasikowska) was tasked with helping the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) remember how to do his favorite dance. In this year’s perplexing sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass, directed by James Bobin, Alice is summoned back to the CGI Wonderland to help with an even more pressing issue: The Hatter is in a bit of a funk, so maybe she can cheer him up.
Talk about nail-biting stakes. Alice Through the Looking Glass’s utter lack of a story reflects the larger senselessness of its existence: Though Burton’s 2010 film was an indisputable financial sensation for Disney, riding 3D ticket prices and Depp’s star-power to a billion-dollar worldwide gross, there’s been no detectable clamor for a sequel, probably because that film was an incomprehensible mess. Six years later, Alice’s return journey to Wonderland feels like a cynical cash-in from minute one, especially considering that its plot has nothing to do with Lewis Carroll’s novel outside of using its name and original characters. This time, Alice leaps through a mirror for no particular reason other than life in the real world has gotten a bit mundane. But if you care to dig deeper, the film seems to have some self awareness about its redundancy—not enough to recommend it, but enough to make it a bizarre curio rather than an utterly pointless franchise entry.