Oz: "I don't want to be a good man... I want to be a great one."
I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but I loved this movie. It was Oz, in the purest sense of the word. It captured the wonder and magic that defines the 1939 classic, and it absolutely serves as a prequel, both in story and in style.
It was clear this film was crafted by someone (Sam Raimi) who loved The Wizard of Oz. From a visual standpoint this is a marvel of computer generated effects. Stunning might fall a little short to describe the awesome vistas and absolutely jaw dropping beauty that fills practically every scene. The sets, the costumes, and the music all delivered. They even started like the original did, in black and white, transitioning to color when Oscar Diggs (nicknamed Oz) finds himself in Oz.
The creature effects were also very well done. From the moving flowers, to the water fairies that bite at your ankles, each had a distinct look that felt like a part of this amazing world that was very much patterned on the designs from The Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch's guards looked remarkably close to the way they did in the original movie, and the flying apes were actually scary, well to a degree, but they certainly provided the necessary menace since they would be terrifying in real life.
The pinnacle of those effects for me were Oz's friends Finley (Zach Braff) and The Little China Girl (Joey King). Finley, a flying monkey, was funny and instantly likable. After a few minutes it was easy to forget he was entirely CGI. Yet no matter how much I liked him, China Girl was even better. From the first moment she shows up, she dominates the screen -- which is a feat considering she's about a foot and a half tall. She might not have had the same level of character growth as some of the others, but she didn't need it.
Which brings me to the human characters. James Franco was good as Oz. He brought just the right amount of slimy charm, greed, and cowardliness to a role that could've easily been unlikable. Somehow, he came across as endearing. Michelle Williams was a pitch perfect as the radiant Glinda, Rachel Weisz was wonderfully manipulative as Evanora, and Mila Kunis kind of stole the show as Theodora. They represented the magic of the land of Oz, and established very early on that Oz the con man, womanizer, and stage magician was way out of his depth. The plot played with their personalities in a dance of lies and secrets, yet it never felt forced or convoluted. All the pieces that needed to fit into place... fit.
All four Witches, including the Wicked Witch of the West, were dazzling and powerful, but their powers had defined limits that were very clearly established. That was very important as the story came to a resolution, because it set the rules of that final confrontation. I will give one small thing away though, don't expect an epic battle scene like the most recent version of Alice in Wonderland. The way things wrapped up in this film were both true to the heart of the source material, and fit perfectly into what we already know about the characters.
I guess I was unexpectedly blown away, but I wasn't quite over the rainbow. Still. I was totally enthralled by this Wizard's magic.
3 1/2 out of 4 Cyclones that sweep you up and deliver you into a world of wonder and beauty.
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.