Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

So here we are again with another film based on a fairy tale/storybook directed by someone who is famous for directing superhero films. In this case it’s Oz the Great and Powerful, which is of course derived from The Wonderful World of Oz (and The Land of Oz books in general) by L. Frank Baum and is directed by Sam Rami who is probably best known for his Spider-Man film trilogy. So this film, by default, is pretty much something of a companion piece to Jack the Giant Slayer but this film is also obviously Disney’s follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Now since I didn’t like Jack the Giant Slayer and was pretty “Take it or Leave it” with Alice in Wonderland I’m a bit cautious going into this film.

It’s important to note that this flick is NOT a prequel to the Wonderful World of Oz like interviews have suggested and instead it’s clearly a prequel to the MGM Wizard of Oz film from 1939. Now I’m pretty sure they can’t legally admit this but the references and homages suggest that it is. Add the fact that Glinda the Good Witch seems to again be an amalgamation of the Good Witches of the North and South (though that can be debated) and the fact the munchkins are played by little people like in the MGM film it’s pretty clear they were far more connected to that classic movie than the original novel. Is this a problem? Well if you’re a huge fan of the books it will probably be annoying but if you’re one of those folk who didn’t even know there was more than one book and are more familiar with movie anyway then I doubt you’ll care. For this review we’ll try to judge it on its merits as a standalone film.

Also, before I forget, this movie is not Wicked (the book or the stage play). This is something that I think way too many people were confused by (possibly because they didn’t read the book or see the play). It’s a prequel, yes, but it’s a completely different story than Wicked. For example the Wizard in this film is just an asshole as opposed to the genocidal dictator he was kind of portrayed in the musical. A slight difference.

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: There are some minor spoilers in this review.]

MGM's gonna sue somebody!
Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who everyone calls “Oz”, is a stage magician and womanizing con man working with a traveling circus in 1905. After doing a show in Kansas (that goes sideways), having a bittersweet meeting with his ex-girlfriend Annie (Michelle Williams) and running from one of his conquest’s very angry strong man boyfriend Oz finds himself taking shelter in a hot air balloon…right as a tornado hits and sucks his aircraft in. Instead of being killed he finds himself transported to a brightly colorful land of mystery. He soon runs into the beautiful Theodora (Mila Kunis) who informs him that he is in the Land of Oz. She asks him if he is the prophesied Wizard who will save them from the Wicked Witch that has been terrorizing the land and, for all of the wrong reasons, Oscar says “yes”.

Once Oscar arrives in Oz the visuals of the landscapes of the world are really good, which is not too surprising. One of the things missing from Jack the Giant Slayer was that the world didn’t look too interesting. Oz looks great, it looks unique, and is filled with some pretty weird creatures. Perhaps they could have gone a little further with this but for what it is it’s good. The CGI looks alright but I think that because I watched the film in 2D things looked worse than they would have had I ponied up the bucks for 3D (Note: I probably will never pony up the extra bucks).

Two hot witches and a room full of gold?
Yeah, I think I see where Oscar is coming from
The story of the picture is your standard Dorothy Gale Plot (which seems extra appropriate for this film) in that it’s a regularly dude who’s tagged to save the world and picks up allies to help him along the way. This is fine; it’s obviously not the most original plot and things pretty much go the way you think it will but it’s still fun. One interesting point though is the fact that the movie isn’t completely up front about who the Wicked Witch is. There are three possible choices; even Glinda could be the culprit. Now if you have seen most of the advertisement and posters you may have been able to easily guess (because Disney’s ad guys are idiots) but within the context of the film it’s a solid mystery.

This is a family film, no questions asked. This is the film you take your kids to. This is not a negative however because while it’s not the most sophisticated plot ever to grace the screen it doesn’t talk down to its audience and has plenty of things that adults will get that may be over the kids head (like, for example, I’m 95% sure that Oscar manipulates Theodora into having sex with him despite the face it's never explicit shown or mentioned). Anytime you have a film that is supposed to appeal to children it’s always going to be simpler but it’s not always bad if done well. It’s done well here. I actually liked the aspect of the film where the first part is basically done as homage to the 1939 film and I really liked that several actors play characters in both worlds, adding to that idea that Oz may or may not be a real place but rather a dream. I especially loved that [SPOILER] in Kansas Oscar had no ability to allow a girl in a wheelchair to walk but later is easily able to glue the legs of China Girl back on(both were played by Joey King).

The characters are pretty good. I get a lot of shit about my inability to enjoy stories with unlikable lead characters but the fact is that I can get into it if has character development where he ends up becoming likeable (and in something like a movie where I can see the development in one sitting is easier than reading a comic book and hoping that sometime after eight months I’ll start seeing some decent change). With that all said Oscar is a dick. He uses people, he’s obsessed with getting rich and he treats his only friend like a slave. BUT he has a character arc and winds up in a very different place than where he began for reasons that made sense to me in the context of what I was watching. So yeah, he’s totally an unlikable doucebag when we first see him but by the end I in fact didn’t wish death on him.

Geez, at least Dorothy had the forethought to recruit allies larger than her
James Franco is alright as Oscar. He tends to be all over the map when I see in in films as sometimes I think he’s god awful but then sometimes I think he’s the best part of the flick. In this case he does his job well and even learned how to be a stage magician in order to do it, which is cool. The three witches are all pretty good. Michelle Williams is very good in pretty much everything she does because she is a phenomenal actress and she does a good job with Glinda here. Mila Kunis, who is similar to Franco in theater acting quality sometimes varies depending on the role, does a solid job, as does Rachel Weisz as Evanora (though I really wish they were a lot more subtle about her). The witch who turns out to be the Wicked Witch of the West does a decent job but in certain spots it was a bit insincere. Overall thought it was a pretty solid transformation.

I was very pleasantly surprised how much I liked the flying monkey Finley, partly because I have never liked Zach Braff in anything ever and partly because I’m suspicious of all CGI sidekicks ever since I saw The Phantom Menace. However Finley is surprisingly down to Earth and not at all over the top, which actually makes him 1000% less cartoony than J.D. from Scrubs. Finley’s presence is likely mostly there for the kids but he’s helpful and cleaver and not simply a tool for comic relief.

Positive remarks about Zach Braff? Is this opposite day?
I am a bit confused about the ending in that the way everything is sorted out I don’t think there’s much more to do or solve until Dorothy Gale eventually blows into town and fixes the lingering problems. But since this film takes place thirty years prior to the Wizard of Oz it feels like for the most part the whole world will be in a holding pattern for decades. I don’t know, it’s just a little weird to me. Of course Disney green-lit a sequel even before this film hit theaters but with the exception of certain witches taking over certain lands and the Wicked Witch of the East getting some Silver Shoes  Ruby Slippers Magical Shoes of Teleportation I’m not sure what the hell the movies would be about. I mean really, do we need a whole another movie about Oscar matching his wits and parlor tricks against super powerful witches?

Speaking of the witches I’m seriously confused by the nature of what witches are in this universe as the film never goes into details. None of the three have the same power set so maybe it’s a catch all term for female magic users. But then there’s some implication that they may not even be proper humans as [SPOILERS] the character who becomes the Wicked Witch pretty much identifies herself as such because she’s hurt by her own teas (and the Wicked Witch’s weakness is water). Plus earlier Theodora implies that witches don’t get a lot of romantic attention because they’re, you know, witches but we don’t ever hear why. Are they feared because of their powers? Are they like mutants in the X-Men comics? I have no idea and it sucks they don’t elaborate. Maybe it’s because of the simplistic nature of the film but even so it bugged me.

I don't remember the Wicked Witch of the West being so, um, on fire
In the end I really liked this movie. It was fun, it had its clever moments, and it looked pretty. I’ve seen reviews that weren’t happy with this film but I maintain that as a movie directed at kids and adults those issues didn’t bother me nearly as much. It’s an entertaining film even if it’s not the deepest movie you’ll see this year. When I left Jack the Giant Slayer I was pretty pissed but when I left this one I was in a good mood. That there tells me the difference between these films. I’m not sure if the world needs any sequels but on its own I likedt i. Recommended for those of you with kids and those of you who still enjoy things that may be aimed for kids.

I give Oz the Great and Powerful 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-Good visuals

-Pretty good characters

-Solid acting

-Genuinely fun


-The plot is perhaps too straight forward and simple

 -There are questions that the movie doesn’t answer 

1 comment:

  1. The film is a visual marvel, i felt like i was in heaven while watching the breathtaking scenes . it takes your imagination to unexplored depths. Brilliant use of technology.


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