Even James Franco’s pretty face and cheeky smile couldn’t quite save this film (and he’s becoming decidedly less pretty as time goes on – 37, wut? – edging towards more crinkly than cute). Like pretty much every other critic out there, I will agree that the visuals were pretty damn great, with the 3D adding impressive depth and life to the otherwise rather flat motion picture.
The intro scenes, shot in black and white, are clearly a reference to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz but are still well done. We get an idea of the man that is ‘the great and powerful’ Oz (Franco). Basically he’s a fraud, a bit of a dick. Good magician, but dodgy as anything, and a sweet-talking womaniser to boot, leaving hearts broken all over the States as he tours with a travelling circus (that said, could anyone resist that face, and a story about his dead grandmother’s treasured music box?) We also get a glimpse of his one true love, Annie (Michelle Williams), an all American country gal about to get married to a ‘good man’. But, as Oz confesses, wistfully staring into the distance and possibly wondering why the scripting is so bad for this pensive moment, all he’s ever wanted to be was “not just a good man, but a great one. There’s also some more character foreshadowing when Oz tells his assistant Frank (diamond in the rough Zach Braff) that he’s ‘just a trained monkey’.
Anyway, basically a huge twister rips through Kansas yet again (an impressive sequence, but really is there no other form of transport to the Emerald City?), sweeping Franco, his hot air balloon and an ever-present top hat away from dust and humdrum and plonking him down in Oz, a world of colour and strange plants that also seem to double as musical instruments. Side note – the fact that this technicolour alternate universe bears his name is not explained. Thoroughly confusing.
So then the beautiful witch Theodora (Mila Kunis) stumbles upon Oz, mistakes him for a wizard prophesised to save their whole kingdom, and starts to take him back to the Emerald City where he will be able to defeat the wicked witch, make peace in the land and also become king. But on the way they dance and there’s a fire and one thing leads to another and then yeah. It’s James Franco, you can put the rest together. When they finally reach the city – via one Yellow Brick Road, and with the addition of talking monkey butler (yeah really) Finley, voiced by Zach Braff – Oz is tasked by Evanora (an underwhelming Rachel Weisz) to kill ‘wicked’ witch Glinda (oh hey again Michelle Williams). But (SPOILER) she’s not really evil, and so Glinda and Oz set off on a campaign to defeat the real evil witches (Kunis actually undergoes a pretty terrifying makeover), to generally save the kingdom, and so Oz can work out whether or not he is a ‘great man’. Much like every Disney picture ever.
The scripting was below average – except for Finley’s lines, but I feel Braff may have done some much need improv –, the plot was weak and the performances just scraped by. However Michelle Williams is just so damn charming, and also very sparkly, so she can be left out of the criticism, as can the porcelain princess, China Girl, who was rather endearing. Kids will love the colour and the easy to follow plotlines, but more mature patrons may be frustrated by its excessive length and general tedium. If you have to see it, make sure you pay that extra dollar for 3D glasses. It’ll make it passable.
Published at SPUR.