So, it turns out in Oz the Great & Powerful that the man behind the curtain is even smaller and less mighty than Dorothy had discovered in the Emerald City. It turns out that the tale of how the man became the man behind the curtain is a static, perfunctory one, a same-old “you’re better than you think you are” cliché. Perhaps it will amuse or surprise very small children, unless they, too, have seen the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, which this movie oddly attempts to imitate, rather than complement.
Kansas circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) gets swept through a tornado wormhole into the land of Oz, where he acquires around him a collection of oddball sidekicks and has to defeat an evil witch. The script suffers from a bad case of fan-fiction-itis, or the itch to tell the audience things we never realized until right now that we never really needed to know.
If only Oscar were more complicated or conflicted. Even the usually intriguing Franco flounders trying to inject some life into the flimsiest stereotype of a con man. The film only truly comes alive in a pair of moments that echo each other, in which Oscar is forced to face the ineffectiveness of his own flim-flamery. Then it’s back to his by-the-numbers “transformation” into a man who’s infinitesimally better than he was before.
It’s a measure of how relentlessly flat the film is emotionally that Franco’s performance is probably exactly what director Sam Raimi was looking for. It’s hard to see that this was intended as a story so much as an advertisement for the inevitable Oz the Great & Powerful ride at Disney World. There’ll be a hot-air-balloon ride down a waterfall, fireworks and a steampunk picture show. You’ll enter down the yellow-brick road, of course, and you will be greeted by a flying monkey. At least that ride looks like it’ll be fun.
OZ THE GREAT & POWERFUL
James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz