There are fun bits of Sam Raimi magic that pop-up periodically throughout Oz the Great and Powerful. For that reason alone, the film fares better than its soulless fairy tale movie cousins, Alice in Wonderland and Jack the Giant Slayer. But it's still a member of that family. It may work at the DMV instead of KFC, but it wears sweatpants to Golden Corral along with everyone else.
After watching Oz the Great and Powerful, I referred to it as "awful" but that's not quite right. The third act is actually quite good. And under Raimi's care, the colorful world of Oz is just slightly more interesting than Tim Burton's Wonderland or Ang Lee's Pacific Ocean. When James Franco's selfish, largely ass-headed Oz arrives in Oz, his wonder is palpable. The plants all react to his presence with syncopated, choreographed movements that very nearly give the land its own bit of character. Unfortunately, the effect disappears moments later as Mila Kunis shows up and doesn't return again until more than halfway through when Glinda the Good Witch surprises us with an assertion that her citizens must defend themselves against the evil witches without the aid of violence.
I also have to admit that 3D might be the way to see this one, which feels weird to say. During the black and white, 1:33:1 ratio opening, Raimi occasionally lets items and actions extend beyond the square image to the black widescreen edges, a surprisingly effective technique I'm not confident would be as fun in 2D. And you just know Raimi's a guy who'll totally throw sharp objects at your face in 3D. The credits are also a great 3D showcase, as is the central conceit regarding the third act. If you're going to see Oz the Great and Powerful, you might as well pony up.
But overall, the film is not interesting or special enough to recommend. The smartest thing Disney could have done was release it just a week after Jack the Giant Slayer. Compared to that film, this is a masterpiece. But without that beneficial contrast, this is really just another crass fairy tale cash-in with chemistry deficient leads and a plot revolving around prophesy and unearned heroism. It wears a nice coat, but all you'll find underneath is the same naked guy with no wiener that we've been dealing with for years now.
The notion that Oz plays almost like an Army of Darkness for children is technically apt, but ends up being more a coincidental truth than a commentary on why anyone might enjoy this film. Like Ash, Oz is a puffed up idiot who ultimately saves a land he finds himself stuck in with the aid of technology in lieu of magic. But for all his buffoonery, Ash is a likable character. Oz is not.
There's just something insincere about James Franco. As a comically moronic Raimi lead he works, but this is a kids film, not a subversive commentary on modern heroism. At some point Oz has to become a character we can get behind, and he never pulls that off. When James Franco smiles in this film he looks like he's making fun it.
And excluding Tony Cox and Bill Cobbs, he is not aided by a good support cast. Franco displays no chemistry with any of the three witches he comes across. I think it's kind of awesome that Oz seduces and abandons Mila Kunis' Theodora, thus making her more susceptible to her sister's knowing trickery. But none of that matters emotionally. Kunis and Franco get precious little time to nail down their relationship, and it just never happens. After their separation, Oz's story and the Witch-Sister drama are remote entities which do not reunite until the end, and by that time it doesn't really matter.
Mila Kunis is either remarkably horrible in this film or so amazing that her achievement goes over my head. Once Kunis becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, she basically devolves from harmless nothing to obnoxious shrieking. It's hard to tell if she just gave up on playing evil or tried for something and failed, but the performance is detrimental to the film, as is her weird The Mask makeup.
Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams aren't especially engaging either, but it's not really their faults. One has little to do but act evil. The other can only be wimpy and good. And that's exactly what we get with both of them.
A lot of people seem to have enjoyed this film. I can't imagine why, though. Until the big third act, I found myself bored and unengaged. This is a largely witless story that plays to all the problems of modern tentpole filmmaking. It's big and pretty enough to win a big opening weekend, but too bland to remain in our minds much longer than that. And as Sam Raimi films go, I'd rather watch Spider-Man 3. At least that has the Emo Peter Parker stuff.