I was going to write this review last week, but then it was International Women’s Day and I got sidetracked. So this is the of Oz the Great and Powerful that I was going to write. The difference is that now, there is a week between me and my actual viewing of the movie so what we’re going to do is play a game called “How much of the movie can Alex actually remember and how much has been compressed into blind rage with no specific cause?” I will give you a hint: it’s probably mostly blind rage. I’ll try to keep it mostly spoiler free, but I make no promises.
I was excited about Oz the Great and Powerful. Too excited. The kind of excited that had me headed straight towards the realms of intense disappointment. However, I was not expecting to be exactly as disappointed as I was. Have a look at the trailer and then we can talk.
So, let’s go over the plot. Oz, played by James Franco is a down and out magician in a Kansas travelling circus. Much like The Wizard of Oz, Oz gets swept away in a tornado and ends up in the Land of Oz. I feel like I used the word ‘Oz’ too many times in that last sentence. Oz has been thrown into disarray after the death of the previous (male) ruler, Glinda the Good’s father. Evanora (Rachel Weisz) frames Glinda (Michelle Williams) and tricks everyone, including her sister, Theodora (Mila Kunis), into believing that Glinda killed her father to get to the throne. She casts her out, leaving herself in charge. The only problem is this pesky prophecy that says that a great wizard will return to rule the kingdom. Enter Franco, who “doesn’t just want to be good, he wants to be great”. He decides that he will be the Oz that Oz needs (I never realised how everything is called Oz in these films… Jesus) and, after realising that Evanora is the bad guy, sets out to help Glinda.
It sounds relatively inoffensive on paper but I just spent the whole film mentally going “nope. nope. nooooope.” So essentially, you’ve got a land that has been left more or less in control of three powerful magical women who are all waiting on a man to appear to fulfill his destiny. His destiny, of course, being the leadership role because, despite their magical powers, none of the women are capable of running the kingdom. Oz, of course, does not have any magical powers. He is a conman and also kind of an asshole.
Now, I could let a plot like that slide with some intense side-eyeing for the sake of a good redemption story. Magicless asshole conman becomes benevolent patriarch after learning not to be such a dick, finds love, is less of a shitbag; I could support it if the script was good enough. Unfortunately it just isn’t. Oz is a womanising dick who is unecessarily cruel to the people who do actually like him, but none-the-less, feels entitled to greatness. The crux of the script rests on the disctinction between “greatness” and “goodness”. Oz wants to be great, but he hasn’t proven himself to be good. Glinda the Good is supposed to be his guiding light in this particular endeavour. She exposes him for what he is, calling him selfish and egotistical among other things but sees potential in him regardless.
However, over the course of the film Oz doesn’t actually improve. Part of this is definitely a script problem. The first thing Oz does when he arrives in the magical land is seduce Theodora and break her heart in the process, sending her down the path of wickedness. (This bit is actually totally upsetting – Theodora is so good and pure and has her heart broken so thoroughly that she literally cries tears of acid that scar her face as they fall.) Oz’s way of reconciling this issue once he has proven himself as ‘good’ in the eyes of Glinda is to offer Theodora the chance to come back to Oz if she ever feels the need to be good again. She refuses and he looks disappointed. He gets his happy ending and she gets exile (which suddenly becomes conveniently self-imposed) and wickedness.
The other problem is a casting issue. I love James Franco. He’s been fantastic in a lot of things. This is not one of them. Perhaps the huge script flaws could have been saved by some slightly more nuanced acting, but Franco never really moves beyond the greaseball conman character. To be fair, he’s very good at that role, but now is not the time.
Issues with gender roles aside, the main problem that Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from is a lack of direction. It tries to commit to its fairytale roots, but gets sidetracked pretty quickly with complicated plot points. On the upside, it looks really pretty and the opening credits deserve some sort of medal.
Anyway, that’s it for me. If you’re anything like me, you’ll go see it because it’s pretty.