It’s pretty sad that at the end of the day, director Sam Raimi had to waste his talents on what is basically a regurgitation of the classic “Wizard of Oz” 1939 film adaptation. He doesn’t even get to think outside the box and offer up his own vision of Oz. Basically, “Oz the Great and Powerful” is yet another version of the movie, but in the view of the all powerful Wizard. The Wizard of Oz is one of cinema’s great macguffins, a big goal the characters work for in the 1939 movie, that they find out was nothing but smoke and mirrors.
“Oz the Great” tries to depict the Wizard as something of a master illusionist that accomplished a great feat, and yet in the 1939 film he’s viewed as something of a pot bellied simpleton who couldn’t offer the heroes anything but false promises. So what changed between all of that time? To boot, the writers connect the former film to this one in every way they can, from the presence of life-like scarecrows (I presume one eventually came to life, wanting a brain of his own for some reason), the black and white prologue, and the Wizard’s former lover who happens to be the mother of Dorothy. What an unusual and goofy coincidence. Worse yet, the story is devalued because Oz is not just turned in to a good looking young man, but one all of the women in the Land of Oz want to wed.
Even China Girl finds herself in awe of character Oz quite often. So the Wicked Witch of the West is not motivated by power but is just the fantasy version of Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction”? And Glinda really isn’t an all powerful guardian, but a lover of Oz’s who quivers at his sight? Is that really all the writers come to think of these characters from the novels? Raimi and the production do nothing but mimic every beat and rhythm of the 1939 movie, afraid to break the audience out of the familiar, and never actually go beyond the reaches of what else there is in the land of Oz. There’s the flying monkeys, the bubble transport, et al; Everything is a call back to the original film. Even Flynn and China Girl are somewhat reminiscent of Scarecrow and Tin Man in many ways.
What makes “Oz the Great and Powerful” such a trying film is that the character Oz himself is a complete jack ass for most of the film. He’s cruel, cold hearted, and mean, and there isn’t much of a reason for why. He explains often that he wants to be great and can offer no one his love or friendship, but why? He seems to be mean just to offer the premise a means of redemption in the finale. He’s not a valiant hero of any sort, thus he eventually proves himself and that he cares for people that need him. If there is a particular reason why he’s so closed off to human affection, it’s never expanded upon. There’s also never a reason why he becomes philosophical in the finale, and whether or not the Scarecrow, Tin Man, or Cowardly Lion were alive during these events. There’s a vicious lion that attempts to eat Flynn in the forest, but it’s yet another goofy wink to the film.
Much in the manner of Dorothy, Oz is sucked in to a tornado, and dropped in to the land of Oz. During his travels, he meets his heroic companions, leans to help the people of Oz that need him, and he becomes the inadvertent hero. But there’s no necessity for the tale of Oz. He’s just a plot device in the original film, and here he’s blown up to have been some kind of martyr who sacrificed for Oz. But what of the prophesized wizard? What became of them? And did Oz ever find actual happiness due to his charade in the finale? That said, the special effects are incredible with the best work belonging to Flynn and China Girl, both of whom are not only likable heroes, but truly empathetic avengers who find a purpose. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is lackluster and just not the best director Sam Raimi is capable of offering his audience. I’d have loved to see a gonzo version of Oz as provided by Raimi the artist. This is the work of Raimi hand for hire.