Oz the Great and Powerful. (2013). MPAA: PG (for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language). Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Sam Raimi.
In the spirit of Alice In Wonderland, and by in the spirit I mean that the marketing for both looked virtually identical, comes Oz the Great and Powerful. Before all you haters get fired up, it’s important to note that this film is not a remake of the classic and beloved Wizard of Oz, but instead a prequel to the original work, showing audiences how the wizard came to be in Oz. Now it is important to note that I am a lover of the original film, and even though I wouldn’t consider one of my favorite films, I can say it is one of the best movies ever made in terms of quality for its time. To say The Wizard of Oz isn’t a good movie is a crime in any universe. And I am aware that Hollywood has recently been running out of ideas and rehashing classical films, but I never felt they would actually touch The Wizard of Oz. Then I saw the trailer, and my original thought was, “Oh, God, no.” Well, I have seen the film, and after a viewing, I can say, “Wow, what a surprise,” because Oz the Great and Powerful is actually a pleasant surprise.
Director Sam Raimi (The Spider-Man Trilogy and Drag Me to Hell) does a superb job setting this movie up, providing some sweeping visuals that are sure to pick up some Oscar nominations next year. Even though he didn’t have the rights to the original film, therefore resulting in some cases where items and characters from the original film couldn’t be used, Raimi does a bang up job at working with what he has. Another thing I noticed when I saw the marketing for this film was that it strongly resembled Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, and this, being a movie about Oz, made me think that it would be a ruining of the classic. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. Sure, the visuals are mesmerizing and the CGI and green screens are a bit too obvious sometimes, but Raimi does a superb job at balancing out the storyline and the special effects instead of making it a giant special effects driven disaster. Why not address the 3D as well? It’s put to good use here. The visuals are so delicious anyway, but the 3D effect makes it pop more and leaves more of an imprint. My advice is, if you’re going to see this movie, see it in 3D for sure. Now, as good as the visuals are in this film, Sam Raimi chose to do something that I found to be immensely brilliant as soon as the movie started, and that was to have the opening twenty or so minutes to be filmed in black and white and in a compressed format, resembling the classic film. It really worked, and in some ways that segment was the best of the entire movie. I loved it.
As far as the cast goes, this is where my main issue lies. First off, I want to say that I really like James Franco, but I feel like he is an actor that makes it hard to determine whether he will be good. I thought he was absolutely fantastic in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, but I didn’t know how he would fit into this world, especially in the lead role. Then again, I also had to consider that this is the fourth time Franco has worked under Sam Raimi’s direction, the first three being the Spider-Man films. The final verdict is that he is fine. He isn’t great, but not bad by any means at all. Sometimes I felt him, other times I didn’t. As for the witches, I really liked the gorgeous Rachael Weisz as Evanora, and thought she gave one of the most likeable performances of the entire film, even though her character was the exact opposite. My main problem lies with the other two. Now I really like Michelle Williams, and maybe it’s because she usually tends to play characters with dark pasts and/or lifestyles that made me not entirely buy her performance as Glinda, the good witch, but I’m not sure. I just didn’t. She sure is cute though. But here is my main problem: Mila Kunis. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon here in hating on her. I actually think she is a good actress, as she has portrayed in That 70s Show and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And I would agree with the majority of the media in saying she is one of the sexiest women in Hollywood. But, here is the issue: she doesn’t belong in Oz. She just felt so out of place in this movie, and it kills me to say that. I didn’t buy her at all, at least until the latter half of the movie. Now, as for characters, I loved the monkey, but my favorite character, and maybe even the sweetest and most loveable character I’ve seen in years, is the China Girl. Here’s an interesting fact. That character is voiced by Joey King, who is the girl who played the young Talia al’ Ghul in last year’s The Dark Knight Rises. Think about that one. Mind blown.
Finally, I will talk about what made me come so close to loving this movie, and that is the ending. I loved the ending to this film. This movie is long, and toward the end it really slows down, but when the final act comes, all worries are pushed aside. If you love the original, you’re sure to be pleased by the way the screenwriters chose to end this, therefore beginning the first.
FINAL VERDICT: Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz is about as good as one could ever hope to be, and it’s refreshing to know it isn’t just a cash grab, but that the filmmakers took their time to please the fans. While not as good as the classic, Oz the Great and Powerful still manages to provide gorgeously sweeping visuals, a powerhouse score by Danny Elfman, and an ending that is one of the best conclusions to a film I’ve seen all year. (B)