Although I probably present the image of myself as a xenophobic troll, often shut in with schlock cinema and Japanese superhero TV shows, I do actually have friends. Of course, most of them are other film nerds. I mean hey, what do you expect, for me to socialize with people of varied interests and backgrounds? Hah!
And like me, many of my friends have turned their film nerd-ery loose on the internet, like some of the folks over at local film website, Sound on Sight (where I also write about comics, but being a loyal and attentive reader, you already know that), who were good enough to pass me an invite to an advance screening of nerd auteur Sam Raimi’s latest offering that isn’t a horror movie (and therefore not particularly worth looking at), Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the much-loved Wizard of Oz, because prequels to beloved movies always go well, right?
You can read Sound on Sight’s review of Oz here, but as soon as you’re done reading it, come back here so that I can tell you the film is actually shit.
Now, a quick note in advance, I’m aware I was never part of the target audience for this film, because I’m one of the few people I know who fucking HATES The Wizard of Oz. It’s saccharine and hammy and has a terrible goddamn message. “No place like home” my hairy ass, there are plenty of places like home, in fact there are a lot of places better than home, especially when you consider that the best thing a Kansas farm girl in the 1940s can look forward to is marrying her cousin Wilbur after he feels her up behind the outhouse and squirting out his cyclopean, jug-band babies.
So the new film had a knock against it going in, and while I was open to it surprising me, I wasn’t at all shocked when Raimi turned out a sub-par family adventure film that will probably join Return to Oz as a mostly forgotten oddity a few years from now.
James Franco stars as Oscar, nicknamed Oz, a carnival mentalist and womanizing douchecanoe who, after escaping an angry mob in a balloon, gets transported to the magical land of Pandora – I mean Oz – I mean Pandora but with more sunflower fields and less sideboob. There he meets Mila Kunis as Theodora, a princess of the emerald city who, along with her sister, Rachel Weisz’s Evanora (who has a British accent for some reason, even though no one else in Oz does) tell Oz that he’s a chosen one, a great wizard who’s come to free the land of Oz from the clutches of an evil witch. Along for the ride are Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch and Zach Braff providing the voice for Finley the flying monkey, because apparently somebody thought Zach Braff should still be a thing.
The first thing that literally jumps out at the audience is the film’s use of 3D, which at the risk of being subtle (because the film isn’t, so fuck it) is overplayed and about as obnoxious as Pauly Shore on a sugar rush. Every other minute something self-consciously flies out at the audience as if to say “Hey, it’s 3D, see, see, hey, 3D, you payed an extra five bucks for this shit!”. I mean Christ alive, Friday the 13th part 3 was more fucking subtle about its 3D than this!
The next thing to assault the viewer like an angry lobster is the acting, which generally ranges from passable to so over the top it’s in low orbit and suffocating in the thin air. Franco tends to waver between the two, with some leeway granted because for most of the film he’s supposed to be lying out of his ass and essentially putting on a show while hiding the fact that he’s about as magical as a tuna sandwich. In the over the top category is Mila Kunis after her transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West (Which isn’t a spoiler because it’s on the IMDB page and literally given away by the film in the first thirty seconds by the opening credits). Granted, the original portrayal of the witch wasn’t exactly what you’d call subdued but you’d figure that someone on set could have told Kunis to dial it down a fucking notch, presuming they weren’t mystified by her green cleavage, because the Wicked Witch of the West wears a corset now for some reason.
But what really sticks in my craw and gets me so angry it makes me say things like “sticks in my craw” is the script, which is as lazy and unimpressive as a sloth trying to juggle. Every “twist” can be seen a mile off, for one. But more importantly, the film fails and even being a simple morality play, with Oz basically absolved of any real responsibility for what happens to Theodora thanks to Evanora and the magical “make evil” apple she pulls right the fuck outta nowhere, even though her transformation is ultimately all his fault. The movie seems to be setting itself up for the classic “man who learned better” storyline, with Oz being motivated at the end by him having screwed up Theodora’s life forever, but when his mistakes come back to bite him, they’re largely blamed on someone else, so what’s the fucking point of setting all that up anyway? Rather than a message of accepting responsibility when you horribly fuck up, Oz seems to say that “sometimes you make a little whoopsie, but someone else made it worse so don’t sweat it too much”.
Oz the Great and Powerful is a lackluster, if not outright bad movie. The visual effects may be all shiny, but the use of 3D is obnoxious, the acting amateurish and the script lazy and uninspired. Wizard of Oz diehards will probably love it, but if you don’t have a plushie of the Cowardly Lion on your bed, you’d be better of staying in Kansas. Tell Wilbur I said hello.