"Good work, you just sneezed away the plan."
Oz: The Great and Powerful seemed to be one of the more interesting films on the 2013 release schedule. Part of me cringed at the notion of it turning into another Alice in Wonderland style over substance fiasco. But another part of me believed that with Sam Raimi behind the camera, this could be a good film, a nice companion piece to the classic 1939 The Wizard of Oz. So, which is it? Read on to find out...
Before you go any further in this review, I must let you know that while I didn't hate this film as much as I did Alice in Wonderland, I didn't like it at all, and in order to explain why I didn't like it, there will be some minor spoilers. Disney has more or less done a terrible job of keeping it a secret who the Wicked Witch turns out to be, but if you're interested in going into this film without any spoilers at all, come back once you've seen the film.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), Oz for short, is an illusionist living in early 20th century Kansas when the film opens. At a show, a young girl (Joey King) in a wheelchair asks him to cure her, he refuses. All hell really breaks loose when a circus strongman finds out that he's been making advances towards his girlfriend, and Oz is forced to flee the scene in a hot air balloon. His balloon heads right towards a twister, and soon enough, Oscar finds himself in the Land of Oz.
The first person he meets is a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who informs him that he may be a wizard of prophecy, who is said to help defeat the Wicked Witch, restore Oz to its former glory & rule the land as its king. Oz works his charms on Theodora, who takes him to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Evanora tells him he must journey into the dark forest & kill the Wicked Witch, and once he does, he can rule as king.
We're not even forty-five minutes into the movie yet, and I've already skimmed a ton of details and still have a ton more to wade through. Needless to say, this film is bogged down in exposition & incidental nonsense, making the first hour a chore to get through. When Oz finds the witch in the woods, she turns out to be a good witch named Glinda (Michelle Williams) who informs him that he's been tricked by the real wicked witch, Evanora. She brings him to the good part of Oz to meet the people & mount a counterattack against the evil witches.
Now the big turn that Disney has done a poor job of hiding is that Theodora turns into the classic looking green witch when she takes a bite of an apple that her sister gives her to reveal her true form. I was fine with this, even though I knew this "twist," my issue with it is the fact that while I like her a lot as an actress, Mila Kunis is not good enough to sell the big, bold, over the top classic Wicked Witch schtick. Her first scene where she reveals herself to Oz & Glinda is comically bad & her dress shows so much cleavage that it was clear that no one behind the scenes really cared how good she was as an actress.
This was pretty much a deal breaker for me. Put aside the fact that Weisz is a much better actress and would have likely sold the transformation in a more believable way, it's ridiculous to even consider that they're sisters when Weisz has a British accent & Kunis doesn't. It just doesn't seem like a whole lot of foresight was given to what these roles would require of the actresses in them. Williams is thoroughly wasted in a thankless role, and all of her backstory with her murdered father is chucked aside in the final battle in favor of more spectacle.
The real problem with the film though is Franco. He's an actor that is so tricky to cast, because he's great at doing a handful of things, but playing a fraud who wants to be a great man is not one of them. I believe the role was originally intended for Robert Downey, Jr. who would have been much better despite the fact that his age would have made his multiple romantic subplots a bit creepy. Franco has a tendency to look like he's phoning it in (even if he isn't), and while that works sometimes, it's disastrous here. The whole film centers around his character & his character's arc and he looks as disinterested and disconnected as he did when he hosted the Oscars two years ago.
Why the filmmakers felt the need to create an original story when L. Frank Baum has provided us with nearly twenty tales from the Land of Oz is beyond my comprehension. The film cribs more from the film The Wizard of Oz than it does from any of Baum's works, but that's the version of this world most people are familiar with. Sam Raimi added a few flourishes that work, such as the changing of aspect ratios along with the switch from black & white to color, but mostly his talents were wasted on what seems like a film calculated to appeal to as broad an audience as humanly possible.
Films like this are going to feel like they were made by committee, because they almost always are. Why even hire a director like Raimi then? Fans will love some of his stuff in here (Bruce Campbell as a Winkie Guard, a late film homage to the "She-Bitch" from Army of Darkness) but he just reeks of being a director for hire. Even the 3D is pretty pedestrian, I can't honestly remember anything I liked about the use of 3D, and I just left the theater about an hour ago.
Oz: The Great & Powerful suffers from a lot of things: bad casting, lame jokes, overly cgi'd everything, but more than anything else, it falls victim to being inessential. It just didn't need to be made. It's boring as all get out and god help your children if you take them (the handful at my advanced screening were mostly asleep by the end, although it was a school night).
I realize that I didn't even mention things like Oz's sidekicks, the flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff & the China Doll voiced by Joey King. That's how little they matter to the overall story, which was so crammed with stuff, that none of it mattered in the end. I just shouldn't leave a film like this wondering why they even made it in the first place and that speaks volumes about what's truly wrong with the film.
GO Rating: 1.5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]