Is it possible to become a better person without sacrificing your own needs? That's part of the premise behind the new movie "Oz: The Great and Powerful," which had one man learning how to be a better person in a new world. Unfortunately, the movie had some great style but had very little substance to go with it.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" followed Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) who was a magician with questionable ethics and on a path of destruction. A fateful trip during the height of a tornado led Diggs from Kansas into a mysterious new world known as Oz. He was amazed by this new world, but also frightened that he was going to get killed by some mysterious creature. Oz crossed paths with a young witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis) who told Oz of a local prophecy that a great wizard would come to save her people from the Wicked Witch. This evil witch had been terrorizing Oz with her flying monkeys that destroyed everything and everyone in their path. No one knew for certain who the witch was. The prime suspects were Theodora's sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and the once good Glinda (Michelle Williams). Oz didn't know who to believe at first, because he was lost in his own world where his ego took over everything. He focused on his greed and desire for greatness that he ignored how the people were suffering. Once he figured out the truth, Oz had to decide whether he was going to fight the Wicked Witch or flee with wealth that wasn't his to take. Will Oz do the right thing or give into temptation?
In terms of story, Director Sam Raimi had a wealth of material from the L. Frank Baum novel, but the execution ended up being flawed in the end. Raimi seemed a little too eager to focus on the special effects that the story portion of the movie got lost in the shuffle. Moviegoers were transported to a wonderfully fascinating world where flower bloomed brighter than ever and nature remained was undisturbed by modern day construction. Their jaws would likely drop to the floor when they saw a tree full of pink flowers that turned into butterflies that flew away. Sadly, the movie's sense of wonder ended there because the story referenced a lot of familiar plot points like it was a checklist instead of a new plot to lure first time viewers in. It also didn't help that the characters weren't fully developed beyond being mere one note stereotypes, such as Weisz's Evanora who had little to do but plot behind the scenes. She had one major battle with Williams' Glinda, but other than that she was sorely misused. Ultimately, the film's biggest mistake was casting Franco as the lead character. He wasn't the right choice to play the enigmatic magician because he lacked a certain level of flare to bring the character to life. The movie would've been wise to have chosen an actor known for their on-camera flare to make the complicated Oz jump off the screen. Sure, Franco did deliver some of his relaxed charm to the character and garnered some laughs, but he would've been better served in a different role. Hopefully, Franco's next film role will be a better fit for his unique personality, but this movie wasn't it.
As for breakout stars, Williams and Kunis led the pack as very different witches who were on opposites sides of morality. Williams' Glinda initially came off as a flat Marilyn Monroe imitation, but she was allowed to deliver some of the film's best one liners as her character got right to the point with Franco's Oz. Her breakthrough scene came towards the end when she had a pivotal confrontation with Weisz's Evanora. She gave Glinda a sense of morality and strength as she fought back, but she allowed herself to hold back before she went too far. Williams had a genuine rapport with Franco that was demonstrated in the film's black and white beginning as another character and as Glinda. Both of Williams' characters saw through Franco's excessive schemes and tried to get him to show his genuine nature. The film's overly pat ending was a tad cliche, but both of them gave the scene a sense of credibilty that it might not have fully deserved. Kunis, on the other hand, had the dubious task of playing Theodora who went from one extreme to the next. It's a shame that she didn't get more of an opportunity to play an uncorrupted Theodora a little longer, because it would've given her sudden transition to evil a little more emotional impact. When she was Theodora in the beginning, Kunis gave her character a sense of wide eyed wonder that lured Franco's character into Oz. The movie should've delayed her transition a little longer to have viewers become a little more invested in her character. If there were plans for a sequel, Kunis will have the opportunity to explore her character's complicated personality. Only time will tell if that's the case.
"Oz: The Great and Powerful" opened on February 8th and is in theaters everywhere. Check your local listings.
Verdict: A new spin on a familiar tale that offered stellar special effects, but very little substance in terms of story and casting.
Movie Score: 3 out of 5 stars (For Special Effects)
2.5 out 5 stars (For Everything Else)
Movie Rating: PG
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)