Man, I had to work to see Oz the Great and Powerful this week. First I tried to go on Friday night and after an hour and a half of fiddling with the projector and making us watch the first five minutes of the pre-show about a thousand times, the theater staff declared it a bust and handed out free passes. Luckily the Saturday afternoon matinee worked, or we’d be having a very different conversation right now.
A selfish con-man is caught in a tornado and transported to the land of Oz, which he is prophesied to save from an evil witch… if he can get his act together.
I loved the cartoon version of The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid and I enjoyed this movie too. It was funny, there was action. The plot twists were even somewhat surprising because I have only the vaguest recollection of the Dorothy story. However, the problem with redemption stories is that the main character has to be a jackass, and I hate jackasses.
The movie begins in Kansas in 1905 where Oscar (James Franco) makes a living as a carnival magician called Oz the Great and Powerful. Oz the Fake and Punchable would have been a better name – he treats his assistant (Zach Braff) like crap and cons women into falling in love with him, presumably for kicks, because he sure doesn’t want to keep them around. Also, his acting is hammy and all his facial expressions are smarmy.
To be fair, though, I think some of that may just be James Franco’s face.
Oz’s serial womanizing catches up with him and he has to escape the carnival in a hot air balloon – straight into a tornado which takes us from black and white fullscreen to full color widescreen in what is probably the movie’s cleverest trick. It was at this point that I realized how jaded I am. Instead of marveling at the colorful CGI fantasyland panorama, I was wondering: is it supposed to look this fake and cartoony?
Whoopsieee I should have checked the weatherrrrrr….
Ow! Ow! My brain! My eyes! It hurts!
After crashing his balloon, Oz runs into Theodora (Mila Kunis) a good witch who is immediately fooled by his carnival slight of hand into thinking that he’s the great and powerful wizard who has come to save their kingdom from the evil witch. The promise of power and riches (and hot chicks to woo and discard) is enough to get Oz on board.
His only real magic trick is somehow becoming clean again after the crash.
On their way to the Emerald City they pick up a winged monkey in a bellhop uniform named Finley who becomes Oz’s new assistant (also played by Zach Braff). Finley is both creepy looking (think CGI baby from Breaking Dawn) and annoying (because he is played by Zach Braff).
I wish movies would stop trying to convince me that monkeys are cute.
When they get there the good witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz) tells Oz he only gets to be king if he kills the evil witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) so off he goes. The revelation of which witch is the evil one and which is the good one would be more surprising if a) everyone didn’t already know her name from the Dorothy story and b) their outfits and hair colors didn’t completely give them away.
What? This? I’m… in mourning! For…. the dead king!
There are quite a few parallels between Oz’s old life and his new one. In both lives Zach Braff is his assistant, Michelle Williams is his love interest, and he’s called upon to save a little girl played by Joey King. If we didn’t already know how the story was going to turn out, I’d be worried they were going to pull a douche move extraordinaire and go “Psych! It was all a dream!” at the end.
Listen kid, I gotta get back to my real life. See ya!
Luckily it turns out not to matter that Oscar is a selfish, cowardly douchebag because unlike in Kansas, where you’re expected to treat people with respect if you want to get it in return, in the land of Oz, all that counts is attendance! And whether you can find enough heroin to knock out the evil witch’s winged baboon minions.
You showed up…. my hero!
I have to admit, though, that the finale is pretty cool. Lots of tricks and slight of hand pulled by con man Oscar, plus explosions, witch duels, and green lightning. If the evil witch’s powers are kind of a ripoff of Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort, at least there’s enough going on that you can kind of forget about it.
So be it, jedi! … I mean wizard!
So… should you go to Oz the Great and Powerful? Sure. It’s a fun movie if you can distract yourself from wanting to punch James Franco. And take your kids to the movie, too. They should be exposed to more classic literature (or derivations of same) and there’s enough 3D sensory overload in this film to keep them entertained. Just be careful: littler kids might be creeped out by the angry baboons with bat wings (I sure as hell was!).