Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz. At first he thinks he’s hit the jackpot-fame and fortune are his for the taking. That all changes, however, when he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity-and even a bit of wizardry-Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.
It start out promisingly (and faithfully) enough: the introduction of Oz is done in black and white, just like The Wizard of Oz. But from the moment extended dialogue occurs, expectations lower. James Franco appears horribly miscast as the lead character, and producers may have benefited from a lesser known actor for the role. His performance is made worse by the fact that we know he can do better than this: just look at 127 Hours, or even Spiderman (also directed by Raimi, so it’s more than likely how Franco got this job). His acting seems amateur, and he brings no charisma to a role where the character lives of just that. He’s not the only culprit however: when Oz finally arrives in the land that shares his name, he’s met by a serious-acting Mila Kunis, who’ declines more as the film goes on. Rachel Weisz is the highlight of the cast, and is the only one who really looks like she’s having fun in the role. Michelle Williams deserves commending also for her portrayal as Glinda the Good, who, like Weisz, seems to be in the minority of cast members who seem to enjoy being a part of the film.
The visual effects are a mixed bag too – yes, the scenery is at times gorgeous, and the transition from black and white to dazzling color is fantastic. But more often than not, none of the actors look like they’re actually in a scene: green screen is undeniably noticeable, and the backgrounds appear detached from the foreground. Maybe it’s not an issue in 3D, but with mine being a 2D viewing it stuck out like a.. well, like a green screen. As I said though, the CGI itself is faultless, and the land of Oz has never looked more beautiful. Character rendering is a treat to look at, with two standouts – the china doll who Oz meets in a teapot and teacup village known as ‘China Town’ (geddit?) and the winged monkey who Oz saves from a lion. Both blend seamlessly with real life actors, and have interesting personalities to go with them. The monkey is the attempted comic relief, and admittedly raises a smile on infrequent occasions, but for the most part humor is absent from the land of Oz.
The same cannot be said for threat and horror elements: Oz The Great and Powerful has a nasty, menacing edge to it. Right from when Oz lands there, the Wicked Witch sets her flying beasts on him and Theodora – and they’re pretty darn terrifying for a PG rated film: Their introduction is heralded by screams and huge, clawed hands. It’s not the only occasion that Raimi attempts to frighten the audience: another occasion is when the trio arrive at a graveyard and are sure they see the Wicked Witch. The worst, for me anyway, is in the third act and involves Evanora. These instances make it clear that Raimi can never stray too far from the genre in which he made a name for himself, regardless of how unnecessary it may be.
It’s not all negative though, and the film does redeem itself by quite a large amount in the last half an hour or so. Oz’s plan is, while predictable, quite ingenious and a pleasure to watch. But with a lead actor who doesn’t look too fussed whether he’s there or not, you can’t help but feel that the latest visit to the land of the yellow brick road could have been a little more magical.