A truly wonderful movie makes you forget about budgetary limits and connects with you in a way that makes you feel not alone in this vast universe; that there are others who understand your specific warped sense of humor, horrible fashion choices, and odd choice of friends. These movies create a sense of location, meaning that you feel these places really exist outside of the theater or at least you could kill several afternoons daydreaming about the characters exploits that the movie carelessly forgot to mention. They help us remember how to love and that just because something is a cliché doesn’t make it any less powerful. Some movies make us love more is what I’m saying.
Oz The Great and Powerful is not one of these movies, despite its attempts to be one. It reaches for the stars and occasionally scoops a handful out of the sky and brings true wonder to the screen, but the majority of the time the movie is soaring on wax wings. As it grows closer to the stars its gimmicks melt away and what are left are some very plain performances by a few poorly cast actors/actresses.
The movie starts with James Franco (as Oz) and his disgustingly smarmy smile being put to good use; seducing naive women and putting on rather exceptional magic shows at a two-bit circus. Also it should be noted the movie starts in a 4:3 aspect ratio and in black and white, but this is simply a clever set up for the big reveal. Eventually Oz is chased by a not-so-happy body builder into the “safety” of his hot air balloon and, respectively, straight into the eye of a tornado, catapulting Oz into the wonderful land of Oz.
The movie then break the 4:3 aspect ratio, lets the colors pour out and you have to stop and go, “Wowwwwwwwww”. Unfortunately this wow-factor is ruined by some cheap looking CGI at times that were clearly meant for the 3-D audiences. I enjoy 3-D movies myself, but it’s a shame to see it comes at the expense of the regular showings. Soon he is greeted by Mila Kunis (the Wicked Witch of the West) and…. Well, I loved you in Black Swan and in Ted, but you just didn’t have the chops to pull off the Wicked Witch.
They quickly come across Zach Braff (playing a flying monkey) who is a delight the entire movie despite the fact that he is simply doing a Billy Crystal impersonation. At this point in the film Oz has decided that he will pretend to fulfill the prophecy of the great wizard as it entitles him to a snazzy throne, a city of emerald, and a vault filled with gold. The future Wicked Witch’s sister is played by Rachel Weisz and is called Evanora. I can only assume she is the witch that the house lands on in the Wizard of Oz. Her performance is dutiful, although a cheesy flying-wizard laser-battle ruined any chance of me taking her seriously.
The first act of the movie is rather pretty, but also rather inconsistent with its visual effects and rather lifeless in terms of acting, but the second act is really where this movie shines with a few great scenes in China Town (it’s a pretty funny pun) and the Dark Forest, all highlighted by a fantastic CGI character named China Girl. Sam Raimi (the director) really let loose during these scenes and indulged himself and the audience in his trademark, oddball sense of humor. These scenes fit into the expanded universe of The Wizard of Oz seamlessly and if the whole movie had followed this route it would have been a knockout. It paid off in spades and I only wish the scenes were longer and they had spent more time creating scenes like them instead of catering to the typical expectations of a Disney movie.
Where this movie suffers the most is the third act, much akin to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It becomes a very predictable Hero vs Villain scenario where Oz tricks the witches and the power of goodness triumphs without much of a hitch. While this might please youngsters who haven’t seen this formula hundreds of times, I am doubtful it pleased anyone over the age of eight.