Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
You may like this if you like: Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (Andrew Adamson, 2012), The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010)
Small time circus magician and all round conman Oscar Diggs (Franco), or Oz as he likes to be called is hurled away in a hot air balloon by a tornado only to find himself in the magical land of Oz. This is a land in turmoil with the evil Evanora (Weisz) having banished her sister Glinda (Michelle Williams) from the Emerald City. There is a prophecy that a great wizard of the same name as the land will save the people of Oz, and ever the conman and liking the riches that he would receive as king Diggs claims to be their wizard. Not just a conman, but also a ladies’ man, to justify her becoming the wicked witch of the west, Diggs also breaks Theodora’s (Kunis) heart. Now Diggs and Glinda must somehow lead the people of Oz into battle to retain their emerald city and stop Evanora and Theodora from ruling on fear. However, as he is not actually a wizard or indeed a particularly brave man, Diggs must rely on what he does best if he is to help the good people of Oz claim their victory.
So here we go again, another reboot of a well known story. Once again we have an attempt at an origin story that somehow has not been legally allowed to use certain characteristics of the original stories, even despite Disney attempting to take over the world these days. Well that does not seem to matter too much as this Oz is a fun enjoyable romp that is perhaps a little overlong and hollow but made with the best of intentions.
The excellent opening credit sequence attempts to set the tone and the fact that the film is in monochrome and old fashioned 4:3 ratio until we enter Oz is a nice touch but a demonstration of one of the major Achilles heels of this film. This is a film constantly referencing the past which can be fun but makes it hard to judge this film in its own right when it almost gives off the feeling that it does not aspire for that. Oz itself is a beautifully crafted and lush landscape. However with an estimated budget of $215 million that should be a given.
Despite the 130 minutes running time surprisingly very little actually happens and the story itself feels a little flat, contrived and hollow. James Franco’s natural charisma and crooked grin are perfect for the role of Diggs but as his inevitable character arc develops he becomes a little less convincing. As a complete conman and fraud he is very hard to like at first and up to the very end we are given a protagonist with very little redeeming qualities. This also brings into question whether the title of the film is intended to be ironic.
The story involving Mila Kunis’ Theodora and how she becomes the wicked witch of the west is especially lame and hurried; even though Kunis herself does well with the little material she is given. Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz are predictably very well suited to their respective roles. However the decision to place the same actors in both Oz and the real world characters was a strange one in my view. It suggests the whole thing may be going on inside the protagonist’s head which is quite frankly just unhelpful.
However, despite the flaws Oz is still very enjoyable fun. There could have been perhaps more laughs, especially more of the banter between Diggs and Finley (Zach Braff) his winged monkey servant. The final action set piece is very well handled and the use of Diggs’ talents done with spectacular and effective intelligence. Weisz and Williams get their chance to do battle to with genuine magic, but again Kunis has very little to do.
Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful not only has a slightly inappropriate title and will probably not live long in the memory, but it has enough good intentions and visual flair to be a light hearted and enjoyable watch.