Oz The Great And Powerful Review
By Bret Dorman
I try to not be a cynical movie watcher. So when I heard about a Wizard of Oz prequel I wasn’t particularly excited nor enthused. The most disappointing thing was that Sam Raimi would be directing it, thus making me wait longer for another Evil Dead/Drag Me To Hell type movie (rumor is Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2 is next for him???). However, my most recent wave of movie cynicism has come from sitting down to watch movies that just seem to be okay with going through the motions to the point of wasting potential. I’m not a huge Franco fan or Oz lover but sitting down and having to trudge through an hour and a half of back story, fan service, and set up just ultimately wasn’t worth the fun finale, where Raimi gets to set loose two witches upon a bunch of helpless people.The Story: Oz (James Franco) is a magician who is transported to a magical land where he is supposed to be great but really he is kind of selfish. There he meets three witches Theodora, Evanora, and Glinda (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams) who are good and/or bad and may or may not be who they seem sometimes. He helps a flying monkey and doll and they become his friends. Also, Bruce Campbell has a cameo.
Oz starts out like any good Oz movie… in Kansas and black and white. There we have to sit through and watch Oz awkwardly tell us why he wants to be great. He goes from womanizing naive ladies to skeezy con man to wondrous magician to unconfident fake all in the manner of 15 minutes. He’s constantly promoting change and greatness, but always succumbs to his own low desires. Because we are constantly taking one step forward and two steps back the first hour and a half feels like it goes nowhere. Instead of a steady incline of courage and self-realization we get a mountain range of hum-ing and haw-ing to kindness and bravery.Most of the movie is spectacle, but I find it hard to be amazed by CGI just for the sake of beauty. Avatar did it and I was truly taken aback by the visuals. But even with Life of Pi I wasn’t stunned by the images. If you’re going to do fancy world building it would make sense to play in that world. Instead Oz rushes through a waterfall balloon drop, creepy forest with weird eye plants, and a bubble ride to get to the laughable dialogue. The predictability isn’t something I take issue with, its the lack of fun getting there. Most of the movie seems like work instead of fun and the set up isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the payoff.
Again, the payoffs are enjoyable to see. When Raimi is in his element, directing chaos and otherworldly villains on the attack you actually get a sense of dread and fear out of this PG flick. Transformations and witchy makeup give a glimpse at the old school fun Raimi. The rest of the movie is watered down, trying too hard to be fantastical while at the same time safe. Elements like a lion, flying monkey (also baboons?), poppy fields, bubbles, and munchkins are thrown in purely for fan service, which make the porcelain people, tinkerers, quadlings, and river fairies seem oddly out of place. Not that we get much time with these new elements… or the old…Franco seems serviceable but I think people are coming down off the Franco high from a few years ago. He seems like a cool guy but his awkward “I’m in on the joke” persona doesn’t quite fit this film. Kunis makes the most of her heavy lifting and Weisz is delightful as always. But the stand out of the movie is Michelle Williams, who plays her character the most over the top as a goody goody two shoes. Most of the movie she seems aloof and easily taken advantage of by Franco, but even the moments where she shows her control and leadership she is still innocently charming. Bruce Campbell’s cameo is for Raimi-Campbell fans and nice to see, even if it is short.
In Conclusion, I didn’t go into this movie wanting to hate it but the movie just was constantly working against its own good. Its not detestable and the few bright spots do shine bright. Its good to see people you like getting to do big budget movies, but also sad when they are unable to make those movies using the visual personalities that got them there.
Final Grade: D+
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