No Yellow Brick Road to Follow
Bryan Singer left the superhero franchise and did an action-adventure-fantasy story with a twist in Jack the Giant Slayer, and it seems another superhero franchise alumni in Sam Raimi had opted to do the same, challenging himself with what would be an attempt to expand the Oz mythos written by L. Frank Baum, to include a suggested origin of the Wizard of Oz, a film that was done in MGM back in 1939 by Victor Fleming and is one of the all time classics in cinema starring Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy who had been swept away to the land of Oz and travelling on that yellow brick road in her search for the way home.
But this attempt at an origin turned out to be nothing great nor powerful, but falling back to the cliche of the prophesied chosen one who had descended upon a land, and hailed as its saviour. In this case, he's up against two evil witches in Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who are currently rulers of the Emerald City, and keenly looking out for that great magician who would be their undoing. The only twist to this tale is that Oscar (James Franco), or Oz, is nothing but a small town magician and con who has a womanizing streak, whose street smarts and ways to break one's heart turn out to be weapons in his arsenal when found to be stuck in this strange new world courtesy of that whirlwind which we know will also be Dorothy's gateway to this fantasy realm.
While this film has a story that ties in to that which Baum has created in his novels, there were a couple of legal wrangles or potential pitfalls that had prevented certain classical elements from appearing in this movie, which is quite a pity since the production took painstaking effort to try and create that look and feel quite like that which has so far been instantly recognizable by any who had seen Wizard of Oz the movie. Practical effects also had its place amongst the CG landscapes, which I thought had a colour palette similar to the earlier film. And if you've followed the troubles that had besieged this production, it's even more amazing that it finally pulled through to hit the big screens.
However, for all its acting talent and stars at its disposal, Sam Raimi somehow still managed to make this a tad boring, with a middle arc that sagged not thanks to very lacklustre romantic affairs that Oz has with Theodora, which proved to be that final straw that broke the camel's back in her transformation into wickedness, and green with envy, since Oz had broken her heart with his affections for Glinda (Michelle Williams), who bore some resemblance to his Kansas girlfriend Annie whom he had advised to marry a better suitor. Naturally the story had an original idea here in making the witches contempt a lot more personal, but somehow this didn't ring well and true, and this heartbreaking romance between Oz and Theodora wasn't as pronounced as it could have been.
James Franco though, did well as the titular character who is all flash and little substance, but having plenty of tricks up his sleeve to compensate for the lack of real magic. It's a tale about his transformation too, from cad to reliable schmuck, and the finale was nothing but a lot of nice touches that built up his Oz the Great persona, and what we have come to know of the magician. It's a wee bit unfortunate that Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams were rather bland throughout, even with their final battle against each other, turned out to be nothing but the ability to float in the air coupled with basic level catfight.
But this film had laid the foundation for a sequel that's already green lit, since evil has just only relocated and not completely vanquished, and the manner which it ended that seemed to suggest Oz still had plenty more adventures in his new found home. It's not surprising too, given the appearance of allies such as the Quadlings and the Munchkins, amongst other inhabitants and friends such as Finley the Flying Monkey (Zach Braff), China Girl (Joey King), Master Tinkerer (Bill Cobbs) and Knuck (Tony Cox), some of whom were included for comedic effect to counter-balance the darker thematic elements from the witches.