Oz The Great and Powerful
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams,
Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell
Director: Sam Raimi
James Franco stars as Oscar Diggs (aka Oz), a shallow womaniser, conman and magical shyster working at a travelling circus in Kansas in 1905. When Oz is forced to escape from the circus rather than being torn apart by an angry mob after he seduced yet another woman, he makes off in a hot air balloon.
Which flies straight into the path of a tornado....transporting him directly to the world of Oz.
There, he meets naive witch Theodora The Good (Mila
Kunis) who believes he's the prophesied wizard who will rid
the kingdom of the evil of the Wicked Witch. However, Oz is
anything but a good man (despite aspirations to be a great man) and
initially only takes the job on because of the promise of mountains
of gold from the royal protector, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).
He soon discovers that in order to take the throne of Oz and the gold, he must kill the witch - and so sets out into the Dark Forest to carry out his mission. However, there he meets Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) and discovers that all is not as it seems - and is recruited into freeing Oz from the Wicked Witch.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is an odd film, working in some parts, failing in others and presenting a conundrum as to whether a prequel was needed in the first place.
Visually, it's nothing short of stunning - from its opening puppet show titles to the black and white old style prologue, it's a wonderful homage to Hollywood past. And once Oz lands in the world somewhere over the rainbow, the colours which unfold on the screen are stunning, vibrant and beautiful (even if the 3D glasses do a little to dull their brightness).
But that's where Sam Raimi's film starts to come apart at the narrative seams with little in the mix.
Essentially, it becomes a hollow FX-fest. James Franco doesn't quite have the charisma to bring it as a powerful wizard, with his smirk and also pantomime-esque acting initially unconvincing. While he grows during the fantastical adventure, his speech to rouse the troops at the end is no more than the wet whinings of someone who's out of their depth. Equally, Michelle Williams is way too wishy-washy as Glinda, and is so insipid in her goodness, it's too gooey to be effective. Weisz and Mila Kunis are a good pair of witches, whose morality is somewhat compromised. Zach Braff provides the laughs as a bell-hopped bedecked flying monkey, brought in to puncture some of the darker scenes later on and keep the kids on side. (And they need that, thanks to the Flying Monkeys, which are now baboons to avoid the legal eagles, and which hurtle off the 3D screen)
It's not that Oz: The Great and Powerful is a complete
disaster; it's visually spectacular and beautifully costumed, but
it's overlong and its pacing occasionally feels off, but the script
doesn't quite give us the insights we need into the
characters. The Wicked Witch was essentially a woman
scorned? Oz, despite his initial shyster behaviour and
protestations that he can be a great man, doesn't quite convince in
the final stages.
Essentially, Oz: The Great And Powerful is like a cheap magician's trick - it promises much, but peek behind the curtain and beyond the smoke and mirrors, and you'll see a hollow, emptiness which is disappointing to older viewers, but may prove enchanting to younger audiences.