Film Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

daniel cohen is off to see the wizard …

oz-the-great-and-powerful

Plot: A con-artist magician (James Franco) is magically transported to the land of Oz where he is heralded a powerful wizard, in which a prophecy foretold he would bring peace to the land.

Oz the Great and Powerful plays it safe. This isn’t a complete embarrassment to the classic original film, but it’s nothing special either. There is no word to describe this movie other then mediocre. There’s a lot of stuff I like about this film, but if it had a little more time at the script stage, this could have been something really great.

Despite the film’s mediocrity, you can tell everyone is making an honest effort. I enjoyed the performances of all three witches. You have a good witch (Michelle Williams), a bad witch (Rachel Weisz), and then one that’s sort of in between (Mila Kunis). The only problem I had with these performances is that they were a little hammed up, which is one of Sam Raimi’s weaknesses as a director. But then again, they matched the performances of the original, so it’s hard for me to criticize the over the top nature too much. Regardless, this is a minor quibble, because the actresses were able to find a good balance.

Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was great. She’s very snarky, but in a subtle kind of way, and you could tell Williams was having a lot of fun with the character. I’m not sure a lot of actresses could have pulled this off without being silly. Rachel Weisz was good, but probably my least favorite of the witches, Evanora. She was either really flat, or a little over the top. She has this intense look at times that just felt awkward. The best performance though was Mila Kunis (Theodora), who is really proving to be quite a talent. She has the widest range of emotions to play in the film, and was most impressive when she becomes the full blown witch. A lot of actresses could have made this a complete disaster, but despite being in make-up that looks like a female version of Jim Carrey’s The Mask, Kunis steals the show.

Although I very much enjoyed the performance, the development of Theodora’s character was way too rushed. Her character does a complete 180 in what seems like a matter of minutes. From how she was in earlier scenes, there is no way I can buy into what she ultimately becomes so damn quickly. And as Evanora tries to corrupt Theodora, her plans come across as wishy-washy as she is completely surprised by their outcomes. This is what I mean by more time spent at the script stage.

And while better writing could have elevated this movie, so could another leading actor. It’s not that James Franco (‘Oz’) is bad — he’s solid, and at times even good. But I just couldn’t help but think someone else could have rocked this role out of the park. Apparently Robert Downey Jr. was offered the part, but turned it down. Now that would have been something. But it’s not all Franco’s fault. He doesn’t have a great script to work with. Right before the third act, he has to deliver the most generic, bland, and cookie cutter pump up speech ever written, and I’m not even sure Daniel Day-Lewis could have pulled it off. Franco is admirable here, and is always on the cusp of being charming and charismatic, but never quite gets there.

Aside from Oz and the witches, I thoroughly enjoyed the supporting characters. Zach Braff voices Finley, a nervous, but loyal monkey dressed in a bell hop uniform, and who was a comedic delight. And then there’s China Girl, a porcelain doll who was clearly the heart of the film, and voiced very well by the young Joey King. Not all the supporting characters worked though. Tony Cox, who you know from Bad Santa and Me, Myself, and Irene, plays a disgruntled munchkin, and his demeanor just doesn’t fit with the tone of the film at all.

Much like the supporting characters, I had mixed feelings on the visuals. For the most part, I didn’t like them. It was just too cartoony, and at times I could feel the green screen hitting my face. Especially when Oz first lands in Oz, it’s just so damn fake. The Emerald City looks like a third rate Asgard, and the flying baboons look rushed. But the special effects weren’t all bad. The last twenty minutes were actually quite impressive, especially with how they integrate the mystique of Oz that we all know and love from the original film. And even though they copy and call back to the original film a lot, these moments didn’t feel forced, and actually came across as pretty natural.

While the spirit of the Wizard of Oz is present, it’s missing that special jolt that could have made this even better. Sam Raimi meshes everything together fine, but I know there’s another director out there who could have made this truly magical. I like the characters, but it gets pretty boring and even slow at times. Danny Elfman’s score is also way too Danny Elfman. This felt like a moderately better version of what Tim Burton would have done, but when you are drawing from such rich material, mediocre just doesn’t cut it for me.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better then ‘meh)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.