“Oz the Great and Powerful” is dotted with Sam Raimi’s special brand of slapstick violence, whip pans and zip zooms.
“You’re not the wizard I was expecting.”
Review by David Feltman
Early in “Oz the Great and Powerful,” James Franco as the titular huckster is confronted by a wheelchair-bound waif (Joey King) during his magic act. The girl professes her faith in his powers and her family offers him all of their money to make her walk again. Rather than playing the greed-driven charlatan and taking the cash, Franco refuses and bears the ire of the audience. In true “Wizard of Oz” fashion, Franco finds her Oz-ian alter ego in the China Girl (also voiced by King) with shattered legs. This time, however, Franco is able to deliver the miracle he was incapable of before via a bottle of “magic” glue. Within these two scenes, Sam Raimi beautifully draws out the man behind the curtain, a man who yearns for greatness but lacks confidence in his ability to do good.
Raimi’s touch is at once apparent in “Oz.” The film is dotted with his special brand of slapstick violence, whip pans and zip zooms. Even the general plot of an unconventional outsider leading a bunch of medieval screwheads into battle is lifted right out of “Army of Darkness.” But Raimi’s is not the only hand that can be felt in the film. Much like “Spiderman 3,” it’s obvious that there were multiple cooks in this kitchen and the film suffers for it. Too many subplots drown the emotional center of the movie, leaving a besieged Franco to deliver an uneven performance. Franco is forced to oscillate between shallow swindler and would-be wizard so often that the film, like the Tin Man, is left looking for a heart.
While the 3D effects are excellent, the overwrought CG is so gaudy that it’s impossible not to be taken out of the moment. When Theodora (Mila Kunis) transforms into the Wicked Witch, her final form is a garish and over-smooth simulacrum. The live action cast clash horribly with the artificial landscape and the only computer-generated characters that have any life at all are the China Girl and Finley the flying monkey (Zach Braff). The fact that the black-and-white opening sequence is the most visually striking part of the movie says it all.
“Oz” is packed with great ideas that remain half-fleshed in this sensory overloaded film. Oz causing Theodora to turn evil is an appealing plot point, but Franco is never allowed to feel remorse for his behavior. And the frequent parallels between Oz and Thomas Edison may have hit the same gleefully cinema-loving highs as Scorsese’s “Hugo,” but the movie is too unfocused to let any one good idea flourish. Despite its shortcomings, “Oz” is a fun film that offers lots of clever allusions and details for fans of Baum’s work. Unfortunately, it misses its chance to be either great and/or powerful.