The trick to creating a good origin-story movie is to create a character that the audience will like and identify with. So, what were Sam Raimi and the writers thinking when they created a character that was one part hero and seven parts dick? On top of that, who decided it was a good idea to cast James Franco – the villain of last year’s Oscars – as the Wizard of Oz? This was one of the worst casting decisions since we were asked to buy Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader. I suppose there are some people who might identify with Franco’s Wizard, but those are not the kind of people you want at a rated-PG movie.
Based on the trailers, I knew the movie was going to be about how the Wizard came to Oz and became “The Wizard,” but I didn’t know that we were going to get more than one origin story. In addition to the Wizard, we get the story of how the Wicked Witch of the West became the so wicked, which was probably the worst part of the entire movie. In all of L. Frank Baum’s fourteen Oz books, there is no mention of how she became wicked. She just was. It’s really that simple and should have stayed that way. Instead, we get a forced story about how she started off good, but had a bad temper, and the truly evil witch is her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz). I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the way it happens couldn’t be more Disney if Mickey Mouse ran across the room in the background.
While we’re on the subject of the source material (Baum’s books), they also don’t ever go into detail about how the Wizard came to rule Oz. They just tell us that he landed in his balloon and since the people of Oz had no ruler at the time, and they thought he was a sorcerer, they made him the ruler. Since that would have been a very boring and short movie, the writers came up with a very generic story, filled with far too much from the original movie (including a black and white opening), and highlighted by extremely saturated colors. Over the rainbow? More like drowning in it.
I understand why they decided to kick the movie off with a black and white scene, but they didn’t need to include people who would reappear in Oz. I don’t think the writers understood that the original movie intended to make Oz a true fantasy world in the head of Dorothy. What’s worse is that the Wizard will actually ask Glinda (Michelle Williams) if they’ve met before, completely shattering the illusion of it possibly being a dream. They would have been much better off dropping that altogether, especially since we already know Oz doesn’t go back to Kansas any time soon and definitely not in this movie.
But enough of the picking; let’s talk about the movie itself. Before a tornado blows the Wizard to Oz, we learn that he is a selfish, womanizing adulterer who treats his assistant like crap. He wants to be great, not because of any high-minded reason, or even for something as simple as fame; but because he wants to be rich. Personally, I would have gone with a down-on-his luck magician with a talent for illusion, but I guess the writers felt children would identify more with a flaming douche bag. When he crashes in Oz, Theodora (Mila Kunis) – soon to be the Wicked Witch of the West – finds him and takes him to the emerald city, believing him to be the wizard that will save them from the wicked witch (a different one) as foretold in a prophecy. Yes, of course there’s a prophecy. Did you throw up a little in your mouth? I did.
Her sister, Evanora, sends him on a quest to kill the witch and break her wand. Along the way, he picks up some companions and if this sounds familiar, oh nevermind. Long story short: Glinda, munchkins, winkie soldiers, broomsticks, bubbles, flying monkeys – really the only difference here is the Wizard isn’t wearing a blue-checked dress and Dorothy wasn’t a jerk. What is different is that the acting left a lot to be desired. Specifically, I’m talking about Kunis and Franco, the former overdoing everything she could and the latter recalling childhood memories of junior high plays. I’m not sure if they were trying to out-bad act each other, but I’d call it a tie.
I know how I’ve made the movie sound, but it wasn’t that bad. Williams and Weisz put on good performances, Zach Braff (the comic relief monkey – seriously, he was a flying monkey) was funny, and the best character was a little girl made of china who was endearing, extremely well-rendered, and probably the only character who anyone really cared about. You will literally gasp every time she might break, mostly because then you’d have to pay attention to Franco again.
Rating: Ask for six dollars back and acting lessons for Kunis and Franco.