Little self involvement time. I haven’t written a review in a while mainly because I’ve been busy preparing content for our monthly podcast here at Simplistic Reviews. (SELF PROMOTION DURING SELF PROMOTION…SO AWESOME) Anyway, when the days between reviews started piling up, I became cautious picking the PROPER comeback movie to review next. (I was this close to reviewing Parker there for a minute, so count your blessings.) This week, however, I happened to go against my previous judgement and against many preconceived assumptions by the masses and watch a film that made me anxious to talk about. The film is Oz The Great And Powerful. A movie that I have heard maligned even before it came out. A movie that certainly does not deserve it.
Oz The Great And Powerful is a….DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!…prequel to the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard Of Oz. And for those who have been hiding under a rock in a cave in Timbuktu, The Wizard of Oz is about a Kansas girl named Dorothy who is whisked away by a tornado and sent to a magical world where wicked witches are the norm, munchkins are a plenty, and lions are cowardly. Dorothy journeys to find a supposed wizard who can send her back home. That wizard…74 YEAR SPOILER ALERT…turns out to be just a man behind a curtain named Oz. Oz The Great And Powerful fills in all the blanks on how he got there and why certain witchly characters got their wickedness.
Now maybe because I’ve had to rewatch Star Wars episodes 1 through 3 for my 9 to 5 job, I’m standing on a hyperbole soapbox here. However, I don’t regret saying that Oz The Great And Powerful is one of the greatest….DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!….prequels ever made. My favorite, by the way is The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. When the familiar pieces of The Wizard Of Oz began to neatly fall into place in Oz The Great And Powerful, I got the same feeling I had when Blondie picks up that iconic poncho. The same feeling I didn’t get when Lucas clumsily dropped his pieces on the ground, brushed off and forced onto me at the last minute. The Good The Bad And The Ugly sets up a world that, frankly, is pretty easy to set up. The Wizard Of Oz is anything but. It has enough oddly shaped moving parts to make an Ikea salesman blush. (Rimshot. Nailed it.) One day I’ll have a discussion about how the land of Oz is just an imaginary place where one subconsciously goes to work out their inner issues. A theme this film duplicates and also nails by the way. However, for the sake of avoiding an even bigger monicker as an overly-analytical, auteur theory douche, I’ll stick with the simple things that make this film work.
I was very surprised that Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland disappointed me. I thought that his famously quirky style would be perfect for the material. It is why I was worried that director Sam Raimi might stumble into the same pitfalls with Oz The Great And Powerful. Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz are two worlds that are terrific at hiding morose, gruesome, and inappropriate subtext under colorful, shiny, childish window dressing. Burton brought more of the morose subtext to the light, thus dragging down Alice In Wonderland away from what it was intended. Whereas, Raimi keeps the balance and tone of his film’s predecessor. I believe Raimi knew it was suicide to mess with a formula as delicate as The Wizard Of Oz. Burton made subtext the focal point when he should have remembered it is the wonder the makes the world. Raimi thrives here and never takes his eye off the ball.
Despite being an actor I very well should hate, I can’t help but like James Franco. Perhaps it is his ‘in on the joke’ personality and the fact he never takes himself too seriously that disarms me. His talent, when he’s trying, is undeniable. This isn’t Franco’s finest work but I believe he’s perfectly cast as Oz. Oz is a failed showman. A man with the potential for great things, but seems to never be 100% genuine. A man you want to expose as a fraud not laud as a talent. Franco seems to fit the bill. Since Spider-Man Raimi has seemed to know how to use Franco’s more unpopular tendencies. His mugging for the camera never feels out of place in a Raimi film. And his tender moments, ones that would be cheesy in any other film, seem right at home here. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams stand tall, where other actors would sleepwalk. That includes Weisz’s great nod to, coincidentally Return Of The Jedi, and having a sorcery battle with Williams that rivals even that of Gandalf and Saruman. But the stand out here is Mila Kunis. She has been proving since That 70s Show that shes not just a pretty…pretty…pretty…damn she’s pretty…face. It is probably known to all her role in the film. However, I won’t spoil it other than to say she completely humanized and made me empathize with a character I thought would be impossible to.
Oz The Great And Powerful isn’t the greatest film you’ll see this year by a longshot. But it knows what it wants to be, it knows what it has to be, and accomplishes these things nearly perfectly. Don’t believe me? Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what you deem a PROPER…DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!…prequel to one of the most classic, iconic, and ‘out there’ films in almost the last hundred years. Click your heals three times, open your eyes, watch Oz The Great And Powerful…then tell me I’m wrong.