Review: Oz: The Great and Powerful

Sam Raimi’s Wizard of Oz prequel looks good but it is all superficial.
Two stars, says Joseph Charlton

IS JAMES Franco a powerful or great man? Might Mila Kunis be too sexy for a Disney film? Is a computer-generated flying monkey the role Zach Braff was born to play? Has Sam Raimi, previously director of the Spiderman franchise, ever made an unreservedly good film?

Such questions haunt a viewing of Disney’s new multi-million dollar prequel – a film which, if not flat-out bad, is at least predictably and relentlessly “blockbusting” at every turn.

The action (and action it is too – dialogue rarely intrudes into Raimi’s CGI playground of bangs and fireworks) follows Oscar Diggs, a two-bit magician touring Middle America with the circus. Franco’s Diggs is a man of few talents and dubious ethics, and he is quickly transported to the land of Oz to be given a good old-fashioned lesson in morality.

On his travels, Diggs juggles a ménage a trois with good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams), and bad witch Theodora (Mila Kunis), befriends a flying monkey (Zach Braff), and somewhere along the yellow brick road finds time to plumb the depths of self discovery and moral improvement.

It’s an aimless plot, and one which isn’t helped by Franco’s position as lead man. Oz’s huckster wizard, in previous iterations a character of charm and humility, doesn’t survive Franco’s smugness.

Of course, swiftly sketched characterisation and an over-sentimental plot are only incidental features of Oz: The Great and Powerful. The film’s principal concern, and only discernible achievement, is its computer-generated aesthetic.

In this, Raimi succeeds. His Kansas is sufficiently nightmarish and monochrome, and the world of Oz is full of gorgeous, vivid colours.

But, like Franco and the fraudulent magician he portrays, Oz: The Great and Powerful is primarily an act of deception. The film’s pleasures are superficial, lacking power or greatness beyond the cosmetic.