Oz the Great and Powerful | Movie review
Sam Raimi’s Wizard of Oz prequel takes a bumpy trip down the yellow-brick road.
We’re off to meet the wizard. Before he became the mythical man behind the curtain, the great and powerful Oz was a con-artist conjurer named Oscar Diggs (James Franco). An expert at smoke and mirrors, Oscar nonetheless longs for the greatness he sees in people like Thomas Edison. It’s an earnest hope, and the greatest strength of Sam Raimi’s imaginative, if highly uneven, take on L. Frank Baum’s universe is its unabashed sincerity. Right from the opening credits—designed to resemble handheld stage props—it’s clear the Spider-Man helmer’s heart is fully in this big-budget 3-D project. But once Oscar is whisked from Kansas to the Technicolor world he’s prophesied to rule, the movie’s footing starts to wobble.
Relying on his two default modes—stoned indifference and performance-art aloofness—Franco makes for an uninspiring leader. Equally off-key is Mila Kunis as the enchantress Theodora, who turns into one of the Oz series’s most recognizable antagonists. And while Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams do their best catty-sister act as Theodora’s siblings—the evil witch Evanora and the good witch Glinda—they’re ultimately no more than action-figure props engaged in showdowns better suited to a Star Wars prequel.
That Raimi manages to make something of Oz the Great and Powerful despite these and other obstacles inherent to a Disney superproduction is close to a miracle. The filmmaker’s wit is evident in everything from a river fairy with a penchant for spit-takes to a ragged directional sign that points to “China Town” (a town made of…china). He also uses Oscar’s Edison-worship to smuggle in a moving, power-of-cinema leitmotif reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. If only more flawed pictures had this level of brains, heart and nerve.