Overall Rating: C+
Oz, The Great and Powerful is a wonderfully average movie that treats its audience like the immature homelanders that they are, and its subject matter like the poorly aging fairy tale that it is. The film is directed by the versatile artist Sam Raimi, most well known for his precedent shattering Spider-Man trilogy that’s profound influence on comic book films since is impossible to ignore, who has also proven to be able to craft fragile romances like For Love of the Game and harrowing genre films like the Evil Dead films and The Quick and the Dead. Raimi takes us back to Oz, a place that we all feel like we know like the back of our hands, and tries to make it new with the help of some bright young faces. The project falls flat on its face.
How did the Wizard of Oz stumble upon that job, you might ask. Well, this hack creative team is here to tell you. Abandoning much of L. Frank Baum’s iconic storyline about the history of Oz, this tells the story of how a lowly magician from a travelling circus is thrust into the mystical land of Oz via a tornado from Kansas. Here, some of the motifs that originated in Warner Bros.’s classic 1939 adaptation of Baum’s pioneering novel, The Wizard of Oz, begin to take shape. One of the most acclaimed bits that Fleming included in the classic was a doppelganger element. Each of the friends, and foes, of Dorothy’s in Oz are linked to someone in her life in Kansas. The same applies to Oscar’s experiences in the new film. Played by the charming James Franco, he is introduced to many characters that are two of a kind. In Kansas, there is the woman he loves, Annie, who has told him of her engagement to John Gale (hinting at the lineage of Dorothy Gale). Annie is played by Michelle Williams, who’s talents go beyond what we have space for here. Williams also plays Glinda the Good Witch of the South, a correction to Baum’s source material as opposed to the 1939 film that had her from the North. Other links between the two times include the China Girl, a glass figure that Oz is able to help by repairing her shattered legs after an attack, who parallels a girl in a wheelchair in Kansas that he cannot help. Other allusions to the first film include the change from black and white to color, along with a change in aspect ratio, when transitioning from Kansas to Oz, and the appearance of the Wicked Witch in her iconic green tint.
After a series of poorly written deceptions on the part of the evil sisters of Oz’s witching triumvirate, played by Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, the wizard and Good Witch team up to liberate Oz from this tyranny by employing some magician’s tricks, sleight of hand. Battle ensues, and we are introduced briefly to more and more references to the source material, such as the poppy field and the witches’ distaste for water. There are little people, and hot air balloons, and talking heads and the like.
With lazy writing, but astonishing visuals, in which the filmmakers really pull out all the stops in terms of color and vibrancy that any previous Oz film lacked and Baum could never have imagined, Oz The Great and Powerful makes for an enjoyable yet unfulfilling movie watching experience. It is riddled with predictability and cliche, completely lacking any sort of thought out character arc. All of that noted, it is a fun watch. There is ironic humor in its simplicity, almost forcing you to appreciate how little the writers seemed to care about the project. It is the type of movie that studios know they can cash in on – cast some stars, recognizable story, cool animation – and therefore see no need to truly invest in it. And, like other such film, it provides a suitable family movie night rental, but is a waste to do for anything greater, with its greatest rush being eye candy – both the leading ladies and the technological display.