Oz the Slight and Powerless
Well, the flying monkeys are cool… flying baboons, actually. Snarling and vicious, they fill the sky until it's black, then swoop down on their cowering prey. More Todd McFarlane's Twisted Land of Oz than Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), I'd like to see a movie all about the flying monkeys. But Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful is not that movie. And, unfortunately, it offers little else to enjoy.
Let's start at the top with the man himself, Oz. James Franco is such a bland actor; he's horribly miscast in the primary role. He has neither the charisma to spellbind audiences with his glorified parlor tricks nor the charm to break women's hearts so badly that good witches want to turn wicked. It's too far a stretch to believe he's the catalyst for the story to eventually evolve into the epic we all know and love.
Shamefully, I have never read the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. This movie is supposedly based on them. Had I not been shown that in the opening credits, I would have thought it was a blatant prequel to the classic movie, minus the songs. I can't help but think if it had strayed further from that movie, it would have been more successful in its efforts.
I mean, what is the point of this movie? Is it meant to be a prequel, like I mentioned? Or is it meant to reboot the saga for an entirely new franchise? With news that a sequel has already been greenlit, it seems to be the latter. However, it's not original (or interesting) enough to spawn a series. And I guess it doesn't matter what its intentions are since it fails at all possible options.
I wonder if any of the original books were prequels. As many times as I've seen the original The Wizard of Oz, I've never asked myself, "Hmmm… how did he become the wizard?", or even, "Hmmm…how did she become the Wicked Witch of the West?" They are such iconic characters that their origins are bound to be boring. I don't know that we need to see them "before they were famous".
Other reviews are saying that the witches are the weakness in Oz the Great and Powerful. I don't think they're any worse than Franco; however, once Mila Kunis goes green, she becomes a witch that's painful to watch. I don't know how they created her face, makeup and/or CGI, but it's a smooth, plastic visage that doesn't move at all. It makes me long for Margaret Hamilton and a little greasepaint.
Worse than all this, though, is the screenplay. It meanders more than the yellow brick road with no clear or consistent goal. Except for the monkeys, there are no highs or lows. Most disappointing is the finale. You could argue that it ends exactly how it should end; however, it's really just a stagnant set piece that feels completely unoriginal. We literally have seen it before.
Then, there's an epilogue that we've also seen before. It all reinforces my point that there is no purpose for Oz the Great and Powerful. In a way, it's like a remake with familiar characters playing different roles. But I'd be more receptive to a remake as the beginning of a franchise than this awful prequel. Sigh… it all could have been saved with one thing: more flying monkeys.