Like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this film shows the overpowering strength of Disney and producer Joe Roth, as they once again bury a gifted filmmaker and cast in an effects extravaganza that's strong on visuals but short on story. There are glimpses of Raimi's genius here and there, most notably in his eye-catching use of 3D. And the actors manage to inject a bit of spark into their family-friendly characters. But the plot and the relentlessly simplistic tone will only please children or undemanding adults.
At least it looks amazing. And like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, the film opens in black and white with a Kansas-set prologue, where the womanising conman Oscar (Franco) performs as the flashy magician Oz. Chased into a hot-air balloon by an angry husband, he is engulfed by a tornado and drops into the colourful land of Oz, where people are looking for a messianic wizard named Oz to save them from the witch who murdered their king. But which witch is the wicked one? Oscar first meets the naive Theodora (Kunis), who hasn't yet decided if she'll be evil or not, then her big sister Evanora (Weisz), the steely interim ruler, and then the too-good Glinda (Williams). And even though he's not a real wizard, he might have some tricks up his sleeve that can help.
The film mixes ideas from L Frank Baum's stories with references to the iconic 1939 film, plus much more epic landscapes of Oz recreated with eye-popping digital trickery. On the other hand, the plot is formulaic and predictable, with characters who are only superficially complex and are far too obvious in the way they interact, badly underestimating the sophistication of even very young children in the audience. But the real problem is that the film is focussed on visual spectacle rather than endearing characters. The sidekicks this time are a slightly creepy-looking flying monkey (Braff) and a feisty china doll (King), both rendered with elaborate motion-capture effects that never quite seem to be there on the set with the actors.
Even so, there's plenty to keep us entertained, as Raimi inventively uses 3D to both draw us into scenes and throw things into our faces. And there are some hilariously offhanded moments that add some personality to the characters. Franco is a bit too charming, although he nicely captures Oscar's darker urges. His half-hearted romance with Williams is pointless, but she has some strong moments along the way. Both Weisz and Kunis get more vividly sassy roles, even if the script is afraid to really push them somewhere interesting. In other words, this is a superficial pleasure, wowing our eyes while we switch off our brains completely.
Run time: 130 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th March 2013
Box Office USA: $234.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $491.9M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: Miller Roth Films, Walt Disney
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Fresh: 143 Rotten: 100
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Sam Raimi
Producer: Joe Roth
Starring: James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, Michelle Williams as Annie / Glinda, Zach Braff as Frank / Finley, Bill Cobbs as Master Tinker, Joey King as Girl in Wheelchair / China Girl, Tony Cox as Knuck, Stephen R. Hart as Winkie General, Abigail Spencer as May, Bruce Campbell as Winkie Gate Keeper, Ted Raimi as Skeptic in Audience, Toni Wynne as Strong Man's Wife, Rob Crites as Firebreather, Martin Klebba as Munchkin Rebel
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