Few films have enjoyed as much recognition and popularity throughout history as The Wizard of Oz. Even with a notable group of naysayers, the 1939 release is still regarded as a classic and mandatory viewing for anybody. Needless to say, any sort of follow-up would pretty much be set up for disappointment, and in 1985 the Return to Oz didn’t leave too much of an impact. At least, not in the long run. It’s probably even of less surprise then, that a prequel of sorts released this year will suffer the same fate.
Things start well enough with the eye-catching opening credits and a classic, black-and-white look as we’re introduced to James Franco’s Oz. While it isn’t entirely clear at first, his Oz is actually a tough character to get behind. We know from the trailers that he’s an everyday magician and essentially becomes a conman when he arrives in Oz. The problem isn’t that he’s a liar, but that he oftentimes basks in his own ego, exudes a sort of snobbiness and a general lack of concern. This isn’t just a concern in the opening act, it stretches throughout the entire film. He almost comes off like an anti-hero, but this isn’t in-line with how his character is necessarily supposed to come off. There’s just a lack of sympathy due to his general lack of sympathy (with a couple exceptions).
Another problem arises literally right when Oz lands in, well, Oz: Oz itself. If you want to know the final word on how Oz looks and feels, it’s colorful but artificial. If nothing else, Oz should be a bit of a visual spectacle, but it’s a little tough to feel brought in when so much is clearly CGI. There are actual sets and everything isn’t as abused as, say, the Star Wars prequels, but throughout the movie I was saying “this is to The Wizard of Oz what the prequels are to Star Wars.”
Now, I’m not one who decries every little aspects of the Star Wars prequels. Likewise, I wouldn’t say Oz the Great and Powerful is devoid of good points. The first 20 minutes are a solid way to start the film; it’s nostalgic, a good touch base with the characters and again, we get nice opening credits. One of the characters, a porcelain doll, is a clear highlight of the film and probably the closest it comes to actual emotion. I mentioned above how Oz’s character left me with a cold shoulder save for a few parts; his interactions with the doll comprised most of those.
But even when talking about what worked well, it’s so easy to get back to what doesn’t work. Both Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz feel like they were written off for silliness and, if not that, then the costume design, make up and effects accomplish just that. There are also some sharp plot holes when taking The Wizard of Oz into account, ranging from details such as why the characters are written the way they are, to the actual existence of the story itself. There’s potential to explain this in a sequel, but that’ll be a tough bridge to connect.
Oz the Great and Powerful has a few neat ideas in place, but ultimately stumbles with inconsistencies as abundant as its own color spectrum. Even the potentially invigorating moments merely instill a sense of superficiality. Oz has a small assortment of tricks up his sleeve, but only a couple of them are actually pulled off.