After Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland received mostly unimpressed reviews from critics and audiences alike, that the studio jumped right into yet another fantasy classic reboot/sequel/prequel/whatever is surprising and somewhat risky.
Then again Alice In Wonderland made a badgillion dollars at the box office...
So yeah, never mind. It makes perfect sense lol
This time around, we get Sam Raimi taking on the works of L. Frank Baum, and when I say that I mean it very loosely because we don't get a sequel involving Dorothy and co or even an amalgamation of Baum's third and fourth Oz books (tackled brilliantly in the 80's by Return To Oz). No, we're following the wizard himself! Not quite what you'd expect but an interesting take on the whole thing, let's see if it works.
After all, the first film was called The Wizard Of Oz not "Dorothy's Big Adventure".
It does work.
Ok, I'll get the bad stuff out of the way first. The plot does have its share of flaws, nitpicks mostly, but also some confusing decisions. As a standalone movie, it works really well. As a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz and as an adaptation of Baum's original concept, much less so. For one thing, there's always the idea that Oz is a product of Dorothy's imagination which, if it is, makes the fact that the infamous magician dreams of that exact same world a bit weird especially since he had already left and was back in Kansas, as an old man, when Dorothy met him in the original film so it's all a bit of a mind-f*** in that sense. Much like Alice In Wonderland felt like a strange sequel, this feels like a strange prequel but where the former had a misleading title and no live-action masterpiece to live up to, Oz: The Great And Powerful has one of the best movies of all time to compete with so there is that. When you reboot anything there's always that pressure of making something fresh and new while keeping the fans of the original franchise happy.
So basically if you want to nitpick the hell out of it in terms of how it fits into the movies preceding it etc, you'll be able to. If, however, you look at Oz in that mythology as a place that's inside all of us or a real fantasy land you can actually access, you'll find little to bash on here. If that makes any sense. Just try and enjoy it on its own, as something familiar but new rather than as part of something else.
We follow the ever-charming James Franco, a charlatan magician working for a traveling circus in Kansas who finds himself whisked away in a hot-air balloon to, you've guessed it, Oz, where he is told that a wicked witch is polluting the kingdom and that he would need to get rid of her in order to take over the throne. Of course, it turns out that this isn't as easy to achieve as he thought. He is joined by Mila Kunis' delightfully-tight-leather-pants-wearing good witch, a talking, winged monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and, later, a little porcelain girl (from "China"town, geddit?). The merry old land of Oz, in this movie, looks absolutely stunning. The transition from black-and-white to colour, a nod to the original film of course, works beautifully and although Oz resembles Wonderland once in a while, as a whole it feels like Oz and is just a treat to look at from start to finish. As is that terrific opening titles sequence which owes more than a little bit to Tim Burton, hell, even Danny Elfman is there with a typically spot-on, Burtonesque score! The 3D is also, you'll be happy to hear, well worth it: the film has depth and tons of stuff jumping out at you.
The cast does well, Franco makes a likeable douchebag though he brings out his trademark cheesy grin one heck of a lot and doesn't always pull off the more serious moments. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz are both good even if it feels like they should have exchanged roles somehow, you'll see why. Michelle Williams, however, fits perfectly in the role of Glinda and even would have made a fine Dorothy I'd say. Oh and Bruce Campbell pops up briefly, of course. This IS a Sam Raimi film after all. Speaking of which, the director clearly enjoys himself here and keeps the darker stuff to a minimum, though there are some mini jumps here and there. The film boasts some of the colourful naivety of the original, adds to it some edge and a more modern sense of humour but it never gets nightmarish, Return to Oz style.
Oz: The Great And Powerful is a spectacle, little more, and as that: it really hits the spot. Which is not to say it has no heart: it certainly has its share of genuinely sweet moments. Not as iconic as the original, then, not as brilliantly twisted as Return To Oz, this one fits nicely in between. It's just tons of fun, you won't be bored one second.
Well worth a look.