Without any of the charm of The Wizard of Oz, and without bringing enough that’s new to the table either, Oz the Great and Powerful often feels rather lacklustre, particularly in comparison to the classic original, but also on its own terms. James Franco plays Oz the stage magician who cons, lies, and tricks his way through life, until one day he is picked up in a twister and transported to the land of Oz. The visual splendor which greets him is impressive; it’s fantastical and is basically a digital update of the 1939 film’s experimental style. Many locations from the original film are revisited, and whilst this could have worked really well, it instead feels as if the film wasn’t confident enough in itself to branch away a little bit and cover some new ground. Still, they all look very pretty, and it’s nice to see such familiar sights as the yellow brick road again, but they do lack anything that resembles the feeling of excitement, awe, or adventure which their 30’s counterparts evoked.
Despite my criticisms above the film is fun in parts; several instances of humour are effective, there are two new companions who are engaging even if not as memorable as the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, and on some levels it works as a piece of family entertainment. Michelle Williams does a good job in her role as one of the land of Oz’s witches, giving for me the best performance in the film. Everybody else gives decent enough, if not particularly noteworthy performances. James Franco can play the arrogant and greedy wizard well, although he struggles slightly to get us to like him at times, and doesn’t convince in certain more demanding scenes. Mila Kunis’ character’s storyline is hardly subtle, and I blame the writing more than her for the end result. Although she occasionally felt a little out of her depth towards the end of the film, and there I can more easily point the blame towards her, in the first half she has to sell some of the most cliché and badly written dialogue that I have heard in a while, and that must have been really tough to get through.
It’s a shame that this film is full of so many flaws. ranging from shallow characterisation to an unfulfilling story. I really wanted to like the film, and although there were several good ideas that held real promise, too many of them weren’t developed enough and got lost amongst everything else that went on. Whereas the original film dazzled with and celebrated its advanced visuals, it also had depth. Oz the Great and Powerful is far more about looking pretty, and any attempt to underpin it with an emotional weight falls slightly flat. It’s not terrible, a certain amount of fun can be had with it at times, but overall it’s all just a little bit empty.