OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Mitchell Kapner (story, screenplay) and David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay)
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Tony Cox
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a WIZARD OF OZ cinematic spin-off worthy of acclaim. For years we’ve been handed dreck like THE WIZ, RETURN TO OZ and the TV movie TIN MAN. However, now marks a turning point for L. Frank Baum’s beloved characters with director Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Not only does it capture the spirit and magic of the original 1939 classic, but at the same time it’s completely original, groundbreaking and unique – a sentimental callback within itself. Filled with pure imagination, Raimi’s modern classic recalls the majesty of Hollywood’s golden era.
Even the film’s opening credits cast a magical spell on viewers promising spectacle and tremendous surprise. Ladies man Oscar “Oz” Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival magician/ full-time hustler hoping to springboard out of dustbowl Kansas and into fame and fortune. With his trusted assistant Frank (Zach Braff) helping him scheme and conjure, what could go wrong? Plenty! When a recent romantic conquest sours and a tornado touches down, our flawed hero is hurled in a hot air balloon into the colorful and coincidentally-named land of Oz. He meets witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), who tells him of a prophecy that a great and powerful wizard would come to save them from the Wicked Witch. Seeing the chance to make his dreams of greatness come true (and woo Theodora as well), Oz pretends to be that very wizard – though Theodora’s older sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) suspects he has ulterior motives. He keeps up the charade until he meets China Girl (Joey King) and good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams), and the magnitude of Oz’s problems – both the man’s, and the land’s – sinks in. Will he be able to save the people of Oz and become a better man in the process? It wouldn’t be a perfect fantasy adventure if he didn’t.
Unlike his cinematic protagonist, Raimi never pulls one flimflam too many with the audience. We are transported to this vibrant world where we believe anything can happen. And his visual pallete is quite extensive – harnessing 3-D effects and pushing them for maximum impact. His EVIL DEAD aesthetic is alive and works surprisingly well in this family friendly arena. Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s script nails the right balance of action and sweet sentimentality. Robert Stromberg’s strong production design, Peter Deming’s warm cinematography, and enchanting performances by Weisz, Williams and the film’s breakout star King all work in tandem to make the film feel both fresh and nostalgic. Even Gary Jones and Michael Kutsche’s costume design evokes the glamour and splendor of the original. Tributes to the classic ’39 film are layered in brilliantly, in a manner that never feels overly precious or spot-lit.
Still, there are some flaws in this fantasy world. While Kunis is adept at handling the softer side of Theodora, when the fires of her other side are stoked by her sister, she is shrill, bratty and the classic (ahem, male) model of a woman scorned. I was hoping for more pathos behind her change. Her jarring, overdone makeup effects stand in complete contrast to all of the lovely and perfect up to that point. As the picture’s protagonist, Franco doesn’t get off scott free either. Overall he does a great job with the material but there are – albeit very brief – moments where it looks like we are watching Franco react to a clingy girlfriend rather than watching his character react. (Side note: send me all of the .gifs of his reactions). And a teensy warning to those with young children, as the winged baboons might be a tad too menacing for pint-sized viewers.
All in all, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is enjoyable escapist fantasy that pays homage to its predecessor and holds new delight for viewers of all ages. It’s wonderful wizardry indeed.
4.5 out of 5