Oz: The Great and Powerful Review


Fairy tale prequels, sequels, remakes, and reimaginings have been all the rage at the multiplex over the past few years. And while The Wizard of Oz isn’t exactly a fairy tale, comparing Oz: The Great and Powerful to films like Snow White and the Huntsman and Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t unreasonable. If we’re doing so, Oz looks downright brilliant. Objectively, it isn’t, but it’s a bright, fun film worthy of both the larger-than-life legacy of the Wizard and director Sam Raimi’s exceptional filmography.

The film opens in Kansas circa 1905. Filmed in black and white using a 4:3 aspect ratio a la The Wizard of Oz, we meet Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a womanizing marauder passing himself off as a magician called Oz. He has little going for him. He’s broke, friendless (save his “trained monkey” of an assistant, played by Zach Braff). His lady friend (Michelle Williams) is leaving him and accepting a “great” man’s marriage proposal. And when a handicapped little girl (Joey King) asks the great and powerful Oz to fix her legs and make her walk again, he slinks off the stage, essentially ending his career.

When an angry, muscular freak sets his sights on Oz for trying to steal his gal, the wizard hops a hot air balloon out of town. Unfortunately, he drifts right into the path of a twister, which sends him toppling into a strange (and colorful, as the film transitions to vibrant, CGI-filled sets and a more familiar aspect ratio) land. He’s greeted by a young witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who insists he’s is here to fulfill a prophecy and kill the wicked witch that has instilled a reign of terror on the citizens of this place—also called Oz. She introduces him to her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who gives him his instructions and sets him on his way in the company of a flying monkey, his new assistant.

The film starts with a bang in the form of a dazzling credits sequence (3D, for a change, actually enhances the film), and it doesn’t let up throughout the totally on-point Kansas stuff. It’s weird that a film like this would drop a notch or two in quality once the “magic” arrives, but once Oz enters Oz, the film encounters some pacing problems. That said, the visuals are spectacular. And spotting the dozens of allusions to The Wizard of Oz—the genesis of the Lion’s cowardice, the scarecrow, and Oz’s eye for smoke and mirrors among them—is quite enjoyable.

Of the four principal actors in the film, only one gives a truly exceptional performance. It’s James Franco, actually. He’s a guy who seems to struggle letting go of “James Franco” and giving himself over to a role. That’s the case here, too, but it works. He brings an unexpected energy to the whole picture (especially the Kansas scenes) that I fell in love with. His Oz is kind of a douche, but both Franco and the character (where one ends and the other begins is anyone’s guess) are charming enough to make you forgive his/their worst tendencies.

Both Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams struggle to break out a bit. The latter, doubling as Glinda (not Wanda) the Good in Oz, is trapped in a milquetoast role. The former simply isn’t the right woman for the part. Her natural, low-key effervescence clashes with her role’s demands like oil and water. Rachel Weisz, as Oz’s third witch, is solid if unspectacular.

From a special effects perspective, the film is on solid footing. Little China Girl, an orphaned porcelain doll who accompanies Oz on his quest and hails from a village along the Yellow Brick Road called Chinatown, looks spectacular. Ditto the rousing battle that concludes the film. And great costumes and production design also help make the film pop visually. The entire exercise amounts to nothing more than an enjoyable time at the movies, but there isn’t anything wrong with that. This return to Oz will bring a smile to your face that’ll linger long after the theater’s lights go up.

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