Despite having a bare-bones plot and effects that have long been surpassed, The Wizard of Oz is still considered by many to be a classic and one of the best fantasy films ever made. Considering the film’s status has surpassed the film’s actual content, making a prequel would seem like a fool’s errand. Oz the Great and Powerful only proves that. While Sam Raimi’s film has noble intentions, it ultimately falls under the weight of poor casting and some odd plot mechanics.
Oz the Great and Powerful follows Oscar (played by James Franco, who is having quite the year for himself), a struggling inventor who is trying to make a living as a magician. After a failed attempt to escape from some angry customers finds him caught in a tornado, Oscar is suddenly transported into the world of Oz. There he meets three witches (played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz) and learns of a prophecy that suggests he will be the savior of this beleaguered land. The film is directed by famed genre director Sam Raimi and is written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole).
While I personally had little interest in this project, Sam Raimi seemed like the right fit for the director’s chair. The early parts of this film only supported this conclusion. There’s a lot of technical mastery on display here and Raimi adds a bunch of wonderful odes to the Golden Age of Cinema. I left the film being much more amazed by Raimi’s portrayal of Kansas (which harkened back to the films of the 30s) than Oz. That’s not to say Oz was poorly constructed. In fact it is a strong update that fits with the original film’s portrayal while still being able to add on some fun and visually stunning components.
The only time that Raimi runs into trouble is when the screenwriting or the casting lets him down. Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire’s script is fine for what it is except in one critical aspect. Its portrayal of the three witches is horrendous. The screenwriters decided that they needed to make the identity of the Wicked Witch of the West a big plot twist. The problem with this is the answer isn’t all that surprising. Yet the writers decide to give it a go anyway and there are so many uses of illogical deceptions that the film almost buckles under them. What makes this all even worse is that the actress chosen to portray the Wicked Witch of the West is so badly miscast that the film once again almost nearly buckles under this awful casting choice.
Other than that though the acting is solid. James Franco is a wonderful lead and he can add this performance to what will probably be a banner year for him. Michelle Williams comes out the most unscathed out of the witch characters and proves once again why she is one of the best actresses in the business despite the role being quite lightweight. Rachel Weisz delivers a fun performance while Mila Kunis’ performance is quite inconsistent. Zach Braff and Abigail Spencer also offer some great voice work.
If it weren’t for some bad plot mechanics and a terrible depiction of the Wicked Witch of the West, Oz the Great and Powerful could have been something special.