Director: Sam Raimi
Writer: Mitchell Kapner
Cast: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams
Raimi employed this type of lead character to great effect in the Evil Dead films and to diminishing returns in the Spider-man trilogy. Ash remains a much loved cult cinema anti-hero. Emo Peter Parker from Spider-man 3…not so much.
With Oz the Great and Powerful, Raimi has made a family friendly film that closely follows the narrative template of Army of Darkness in which a loud mouthed braggard finds himself in a mysterious land and is anointed as the chosen one to save some townsfolk against his wishes.
We first meet Oz (James Franco) in his days as a huckster, living the carnie life. He has the love of a good woman, Annie, played by Michelle Williams, but he cannot bring himself to settle with her until he feels he has attained greatness in his life.
Oz has a magic show in Kansas end awkwardly when a wheelchair bound girl asks him to help her walk. Things don’t get much better after the show when he gets chased down by the circus strong man and he is blown away to the land of Oz shortly thereafter.
Oz meets the sister witches Evanora and Theodora (Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis respectively) and he is promised the kingdom of Oz and all its gold if he can defeat their rival Glinda. And so Oz heads off down the yellow brick road and, as is the way in this land, picks up a merry band of misfits on his journey of self discovery.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a modestly successful film in its own right but considering Raimi’s legacy in creating some memorable characters and giving them some fantastic one liners, it is also a tad disappointing in how sanitized and bland it feels.
Franco is perfectly cast as Oz. He seems naturally brash, confident and flashes that trademark shit-eating grin of his. But he isn’t given enough catchy lines to work with. The fantastic cast of women in the film also reminded me of last year’s Snow White film where Charlize Theron seemed up for playing a fantastical larger than life role but her character was disappointingly one dimensional.
As a stylistic choice, I felt there was a missed opportunity to do this film with as little computer-aided effects as possible and work instead with puppets and stage effects as with the original Wizard of Oz. Raimi evokes some memories of a simpler style with his black and white introduction and some CGI backdrops that seem purposefully two dimensional and given a painterly quality. I personally find it difficult to become invested in computer animated characters like Finley the Flying Monkey who isn’t stylized in any particular way. He is as convincing to me as Jar Jar Binks was in ’99. I would have loved it if we got an animatronic Finley or a stop motion China Doll girl. Oh well.
Oz the Great and Powerful is passable family fare but not Raimi’s best work by a long shot. You’ll enjoy the film for its cast of likable actors playing much loved movie roles and there are the requisite Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi cameos to keep an eye out for. But there’s not a lot here that will stay with you after the credits have rolled.