Oz-The-Great-And-Powerful

Somewhere there is a grave, a simple little grave. The corpse lying in the grave is old and probably all dried out–so stiff and fragile that a tug could break it. But that will not stop that corpse from rolling over and over and over when it learns that Oz the Great and Powerful exists. Why would that guy be rolling like a stone down a hill? Well, it’s the body of L. Frank Baum, the son-in-law of a suffragette and early feminist, and he would be incredibly annoyed that his series of books specifically written to encourage young girls was transformed into a story about a douche trying to get his dick wet.

Oz, besides being the shortened name of the rightful queen Ozma, and the name of the land where the adventures take place, is also the name of James Franco’s magician. He’s a turd of the highest order. A womanizing fellow who preys on the most gullible women imaginable and is a jerk to the one guy who hangs out with him. Watching people interact with him and look at him with any measure of fondness you will be compelled to say “you can do better.” Franco imbues the guy with ample amounts of sleaze, convincingly making Oz out to be someone no one in Kansas will ever miss and someone everyone in Oz should run from.

Which is a bad thing, because he’s a reluctant hero! He just wants to be great and loved and is kind of dumb in how he goes about it. Yet Franco may be the first guy saddled with that “heroic” stereotype to play it so honestly awful. “Oh you want to be extraordinary,” you will say to Oz as he passionately talks about his dreams, “maybe stop being a selfish jerk and actually do something with your life.”

Guys, Oz turned me into my dad.

There are some good things about the film. Sam Raimi is, as always a fantastic director and he brings his usual impeccable eye to the proceedings, paying homage to 1930s filmmaking while also providing it with a modern twist. The opening black and white sequence may be tedious in its development of Oz (I seriously was repulsed by him) but it’s also absolutely gorgeous with the wonders of Oz’s circus world straining to burst from their black and white, 3:4 screen confinement, and sometimes succeeding. When things expand into color it’s a subtle transformation. Easing us in before unloading a bevy of vibrant colors meant to mimic the Technicolor wonder of the 1939 film.

The homage to the seminal Judy Garland film doesn’t stop with Raimi’s filmmaking. Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis all eschew realism to bring an arch quality to their characters. They play everything as big and bold as the film’s color palate. Williams and Kunis even go a step further–employing the mannerisms and vocal stylings of Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton, the original Glinda and Wicked Witch of the West respectively. For geeks of classic cinema it is a wonderful fan letter. Its as geeky as when Raimi’s friends the Coen Brothers went and made Hudsucker Proxy as an ode to screwball comedy–but it isn’t quite as successful, as much as it pains me to say that.

Franco isn’t bad as much as misplaced. He’s playing super sleazy James Franco. He’s a modern guy in a top hat surrounded by heroines and villains from a 30s musical. I can sort of understand the idea behind his casting, but he’s so utterly lacking in charm in the role that it strains credulity when all these people start liking the guy. It doesn’t help that as written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire some of these characters are just…stupid. The tales of the three witches, the best characters in the whole thing, are truncated so we can see Oz’s “arc” and it’s a massive sacrifice of their intelligence–though not their agency. These women all have agency…or they have what’s left of agency after they all blindly ascribe to a prophecy about a foreign wizard who will come to their land, end evil and become the new king and give up nearly all of their power and desire to see that prophecy either quelled or successful.

That’s the core problem–not Franco (he helps), but this character he plays and the complete perversion of Baum’s original stories and, more importantly, their purpose. Imagine finally getting a Wonder Woman film and having it be all about Steve Trevor. It’s that knee jerkingly offensive and it’s troubling because despite there being an extremely popular Oz story out there that focuses on women and has a huge built-in audience this story about a guy trying to find himself like a dozen other guys this month alone is what gets directed by someone amazing like Sam Raimi and populated by the three actresses stuck playing second fiddle to Franco.

It’s a depressing show of just how awful and entrenched sexism in Hollywood is when a movie starring Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, Oscar nominee Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis can’t get made until the story has a guy shoehorned in.

There is one nice little thing though. If you can get through the bitter pill of this film essentially being about women giving up power so an unworthy guy can establish a patriarchy then the already excellent Wizard of Oz becomes, not a film about Dorothy stopping an evil witch, but about Dorothy re-establishing the matriarchy. Stick it to ‘em Dorothy.

Notes

  • Michelle Williams is so tremendous as Glinda. The way she channels Billie Burke without becoming a caricature is extraordinary. She plays Glinda with that same blend of teeth hurting sweetness and underlying darkness. It reminds you that Glinda basically lies to Dorothy through all of Wizard so she can get her to kill a witch and unveil the Wizard’s deception. I’m on to you Glinda the “Good” and I like all of it.
  • I won’t spoil who the Wicked Witch is because that’s rude but the actress seems to be having a lot of fun playing her, even if her whole arc is about her being that crazy ex-girlfriend that should be taken out behind the stable of common character tropes and shot.
  • Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as sisters works better than it should. This is a return to Mummy form for Weisz. That’s a very very good thing.
  • Seriously, fuck whoever thought a movie about Oz wanting more from life was a better film choice than a Wicked adaptation.
  • The land of Oz is populated by Munchkins, regular people and Tinkerers who can build anything and are also all men. I side-eyed so hard I hurt myself.
  • Amanda

    I’ve seen many mixed reviews for Oz: The Great And Powerful,
    and for those who did not like it, I have noticed two common themes.
    One, is that many felt James Franco and Mila Kunis were miscast. (Which I
    don’t necessarily agree with, as I thought they were enjoyable, but
    that’s not what this is about.) Two, many people find the story to be
    sexist, in that three women had to take a backseat to a male character,
    ‘waiting’ for him to ‘rescue’ them. I’m not quite sure why people feel
    this way, for I didn’t get those vibes at all. Thus, I feel obligated to
    explain a few things, give my thoughts, and discuss this movie and why I
    thought it was a good and enjoyable entry to the Oz fandom.

    Our main character is Oscar Diggs, commonly referred to as ‘Oz’. We
    quickly learn several things about him: he is your average circus magic
    act, relying on illusion and parlor tricks to perform for his audiences.
    However… he has a few character flaws. He’s a womanizer, for starters.
    He’s an ‘all about me’ guy, who verbally abuses his assistant, the
    closest thing he has to a friend. He is, as he even admits in the film, a
    conman. But like everyone, he has a dream for his life: he wants to be a
    GREAT man, and a good wizard. He wants to leave his mark, and create
    something wonderful. He simply… goes about it all the wrong way.

    During
    the tornado, Oz swears he’ll change if he’s given one more chance at
    life. And he is given that chance, finding himself in the Land of Oz. I
    can’t help but compare this to the original film, where Dorothy wishes
    for a place where ‘there isn’t any trouble’. A place for a second
    chance, for her and for Toto. She arrives to that place via tornado,
    just like our hero Oscar. And while this Land of Oz is not a dream as it
    was in the 1939 movie, I believe that both journeys serve the same
    purpose: to teach the main character a lesson.

    Now for our three
    female characters. The problem people seem to have with the story is
    that the three women, powerful witches, apparently need help from a man
    to solve their problems. I think we’re overlooking a few things. Lets
    start with the prophecy. The prophecy foreseen by Glinda’s father states
    that a wizard, a MAN, will come to save Oz. Not a woman. “But why can’t
    Glinda use her magic to overthrow Evanora without the Wizard’s help?”
    For one, Evanora and Glinda seem evenly matched, judging by the final
    battle. Actually, Evanora seems to tip the scale slightly. So that
    wouldn’t work. Also, it really has to do with the people of the Land of
    Oz. SEVERAL times, Glinda mentions to Oscar that the people of Oz need
    to BELIEVE. They need something to believe in, SOMEONE to believe in.
    And that someone is the prophesized wizard. The one meant to bring peace
    to Oz. They aren’t going to put their faith in the witches when they
    are not the prophesized ones. They aren’t going to put their faith in
    the witches when lies have been thrown about, not quite sure WHO is the
    Wicked one. How can they put their complete and total trust in someone
    who could possibly be evil? Evanora and Theodora call Glinda wicked.
    Glinda calls Evanora wicked. Evanora holds the throne of the Emerald
    City, and claims Glinda poisoned her own father. Glinda claims the
    opposite. You see the problem? Complete faith cannot be put into any
    witch in power. No matter who won the fight, there would be doubt. Thus,
    the people wait for the wizard, a ‘clean slate’ and someone they can
    trust. It’s not an issue of sexism. It’s an issue of holding to the one
    glimmer of hope they have (in the form of the prophecy) and rallying
    around that hope when the time comes, bringing them all together as one
    force.

    Now. Despite many believing that the three witches play
    side characters to Oscar, I feel like all three females play an
    EXTREMELY important role in making Oz the ‘great man’ he becomes. Just
    like Dorothy’s three companions in the original film, each teaches him a
    lesson, and makes him see the error of his ways. We see Oz realize the
    devastating effects of his womanizing with Theodora, and how it hurts
    the women he plays. With Evanora, Oz realizes what a lust for greed and
    power can do to a person. And with Glinda, Oz learns some of his most
    important lessons yet: what it means not to achieve greatness, but
    GOODNESS.

    And lets not forget China Girl, another female presence
    in the film, who not only changes Oz’s mind about leaving during the
    moment of crisis, but gives him the idea in which to win the battle.

    The
    three witches, the three WOMEN, are the DRIVING FORCE behind Oscar, and
    he would not have changed or accomplished his goals without them. They
    aided him in learning the lesson that he was arguably sent to the Land
    of Oz to learn.

    I wish I were more eloquent so I could get my point across better, but I did the best I could. Oz: The Great and Powerful
    was a film that this avid Oz fan enjoyed. I only wish more people could
    see it for what it is: a fantastic nod to the original 1939 film, and
    Baum’s novels. Not a sexist piece.