Dear Oz the Great and Powerful,
One would imagine it would be easy to create a compelling or at least interesting and entertaining story set in the fantasy world made famous by the film The Wizard of Oz. The world in that film and in that story is rich, filled with character, and is somewhat indelibly linked into our collective unconscious. All one needs to do is add in some fresh characters full of joy and wonder along with some whiz-bang special effects and call it a day. It wouldn’t be a great movie, but it would be serviceable, and as a big budget family film that is all you really had to strive for, Oz the Great and Powerful.
Yet somehow, miraculously, you messed up even that slight task, turning into a plodding, irritating, and downright alienating morass that is fine enough, I guess, but rarely really attempts anything better than just looking good – and even then only in the most facile and derivative sense of the word. From your confounding narrative to your overwrought and cliched world, to the deadeningly clumsy acting of your lead, every aspect of you seems to have been placed to leave an audience with a profound and disappointing sense of “meh.”
We begin in Kansas, as we must, by meeting James Franco as the titular Oz, a hack stage magician and con man who dreams of bigger things than his wandering circus life. He seduces a parade of women, callously using them and discarding them with nary a thought to their feelings or even their purpose. Is he doing it because he longs to be wanted? Because he suffers from sex addiction? His womanizing seems tied into his yearning for fame, but in what way we can never be sure. This is the first of many character mysteries that make it hard to get a handle on your narrative, which is especially problematic, as you make pretensions toward being something more than a pretty, glossy surface over a hollow core.
When circumstances lead to Oz having to make a quick escape, he leaps into a conveniently placed hot air balloon and sails off into a tornado, which whisks him away to Oz, a land that carries his name as well as his sense of surface appeal with not much else to offer. It is a world filled with arches of clouds and rocks and trees. It is a land where flowers sense that someone is floating by and will open languidly and splendidly. At the end of this Disney World-light river ride he meets Theodora the Good, a red clad witch played with beguiling impishness by Mila Kunis. She tells him that he is the wizard who has been prophesied to save the land of Oz from a great evil that… at the moment is both unknown and unfelt.
This is the first of many problems, but it defines a massive blind spot in your story. We are told that Oz will save the world, but in all honesty we only get one glimpse as to how the world has been laid low by the omnipresent but completely secret Wicked Witch. Even that one glimpse, though, is a direct outcome of Oz coming to Oz at all, meaning that without the savior, there would be no peril. He is an antagonistic force to our antagonist. Flying baboons aside, the Wicked Witch has done nothing but murder a king, an act which leads to nothing because the throne is left open.
I could go through, plot point by plot point, tearing you to pieces and begging answers to questions that I will never receive, but why bother? Instead I can just say that your plot vacilates between impenetrability, incompetence, and inanity while your other supporting actresses, Michelle Williams as Glinda and Rachel Weisz as Evanora, perform ably but broadly, even as your 1950s gender politics begin to eviscerate their and Kunis’s efforts. Your effects are omnipresent and overindulgent to the point of stultifying and deadening the audience, while director Sam Raimi adds so few personal touches that one could be forgiven for just assuming that this film was directed by the mere incorporeal idea of A Director. The less said about Franco and his murky, painfully misplaced performance, the better.
Are you bad? I suppose not. You never strive for something grand enough that you could be considered a failure on any real or meaningful level. You just exist, a vapid void of two hours speckled with loud noises and bright colors and some truly disturbing misogynistic undertones. And while that is disappointing, I guess it’s not worth shouting a warning from the rooftops about, primarily because that would suggest I have thought about you much at all since seeing you and deciding I ought to write you this letter.
Pointedly disinterested and unmoved,
Brian J. Roan