Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Sam Raimi has had quite a journey, from pounding the pavement to make and promote The Evil Dead, to making two excellent Spiderman films and then, finally, to the point of making a Disney film. For Raimi, it is definitely a success story, and proof that hard work and perseverance can occasionally get you somewhere, even in Hollywood.
Still, he has had his ups and downs. Along with two great Spiderman films came Spiderman 3, and such vanity projects as For the Love of the Game. Through it all, everything he has done, whether successful or not, felt like the works of an individual that really cared for the craft of filmmaking and wanted to make the best movie he could. Unfortunately, with Oz the Great and Powerful, it feels for once that he is merely coasting through. It's probably no surprise that the next thing he did after this is return to the universe that introduced him to the world.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), also known as Oz the Great and Powerful, is a shabby, womanizing carnival magician that is barely surviving. He makes the mistake of trying to romance the girlfriend of the show's strongman (Tim Holmes). Leaving his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) behind, he steals a balloon and attempts to make an escape. Unfortunately the balloon heads straight for an approaching tornado. Instead of dying, Oz finds himself deposited in a strange land. He is fished out of a lake by Theodora (Mila Kunis), a passerby who is excited when she hears the stranger's name.
The land of Oz is beset by attacks from an evil witch, and a prophecy says that a great wizard bearing the name of their world will appear and vanquish her. Theodora decides to bring him to the Emerald City, as she believes that he is the one that was promised. They are soon joined by Finley (Braff), a flying monkey that Oz rescues from a lion attack. Finley is quick to pledge a life debt, but is soon disappointed when he finds out that his new friend is little more than a charlatan who hopes to use Theodora's belief to enrich him. It doesn't help that she is also falling for him.
When they reach the Emerald City, it is discovered that Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) is the regent in charge. She is in no way impressed by Oz, seeing him to be the charlatan he is. Still, she agrees that he will be able to assume the throne, and the riches of the city, if he is able to kill the witch. Oz begins his quest, passing through Chinatown, a village populated by sentient porcelain dolls that has recently suffered an attack by the witch's army of flying baboons. He discovers one survivor (Joey King), who also joins their quest after Oz repairs her legs with glue.
It turns out, however, that the witch he has been sent by Evanora to destroy is actually Glinda (Michelle Williams). It is Evanora herself that is the evil witch, and she planned all along to use Oz's gullibility to dispatch of her rival. Theodora, it seems, has tried to keep her wickedness hidden for years, but she transforms into the vengeful Wicked Witch of the West once Evanora convinces her that Oz never loved her, but simply wants to try and con all three of the witches.
Glinda is quite aware that Oz is not a wizard, but convinces him to help the inhabitants of Oz. Using his know-how of making magic look real on the stage, he concocts a plan to make it appear as if he truly is an all-powerful wizard so that the population will rise up against the two evil sisters
Sam Raimi, to his credit, hasn't completely abandoned himself, despite how bland the film turned out. Most of the cast of The Evil Dead make cameos as Quadlings, while Bruce Campbell shows up as a Winkie Guard in Emerald City. Supposedly, the Oldsmobile is hanging around, disguised as a wagon. During the montages where Oz and the Tinkers are designing some delightful steampunk devices there are shots that are quite unique to his way of filming.
The trouble comes with the movie as a whole. The black and white beginning (in Academy format) leading to wide-screen color once Oz is reached is a nice homage to the original movie, but the Oz here is little more than a bunch of images projected on a green screen as the actors coast through it. Both China Girl and Finley are interesting characters, more-so than Oz and any of the witches, and it's appropriate that they are CG. The entire thing could have been produced on a PC without wasting time on actors.
James Franco isn't horrible, but I can always tell when roles were written for Bruce Campbell. Even at this point it seems that studios step in at some point and try to throw a big-name actor into parts that would have been played much better by Raimi's favorite lead actor. This is one of the most obvious, from his mannerisms to his con-artist type behavior. It's Ash, as he was fully realized in Army of Darkness, transported to Oz.
Mila Kunis tries hard, but her unhinged and abrasive take as the Wicked Witch of the West doesn't hold a candle to Margaret Hamilton. I was never a fan of the original movie, but Hamilton was unforgettable. Her motivation in The Wizard of Oz against Dorothy was her sister's death. Turning the Witch into the ultimate stalker was not the greatest of ideas.
As for Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, they follow the current trend of bland heroes and villains. Their ultimate battle is a bit of a yawn.
Since Oz the Great and Powerful Sam Raimi has returned to television, producing and occasionally directing episodes of Rake and Ash vs. the Evil Dead, pretty much wiping out memories of this movie. I am sure he will come up with something (hopefully something he and his brother Ivan write), and hopefully it won't be the rumored sequel to this.
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Time: 130 minutes
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King
Director: Sam Raimi