Let the men handle it — Oz the Grating and Terrible

These would have been handy to have in the theater. (Photo Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

These would have been handy to have in the theater. (Photo Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

“Oz the Great and Powerful” has already raked in nearly $80 million in its opening weekend. It seems on track to be a hit. The kids are watching this, and I just want to explain a few things to them in case they were unclear.

-If a brunette tells you something, you do not have to stop listening to her the instant a blonde says something different.

-Brunette does not mean evil. Blonde does not equal good.

-If you are a woman with literally magical powers, you do not have to spend your entire plot sitting around waiting for James Franco to come fix things. You can fix them yourself.

-It is not true that you can tell that a woman is evil because she becomes ugly.

-The Wicked Witch of the West is not that way because of James Franco. If you absolutely require a backstory, go read “Wicked.”

And these are just a few of the problems. It was like a crash course in casual sexism.

Oz has changed since the time of Dorothy. According to “Oz the Great and Powerful,” it is now full of attractive women in leather pants waiting for a man to come along and fix their problems. Also, there are munchkins.

I liked the munchkins. “Sing more,” I shouted. “The second you stop singing, we will revert to what this movie was before you entered it: a series of women gazing into James Franco’s eyes insisting that he is the only person who can save them. They literally have magical powers. He has no powers at all. I guess he is enrolled in a lot of grad schools, and he can make doves fly out of his hat, but beyond that, nothing. They can shoot fireballs from their hands. Fireballs! But no. That is not enough. They must wait for a Man to arrive and solve things with his Intellect. I have had it with that.”

It’s Dances With Oz. It’s Ozvatar.

“John Carter of Mars” was comparatively progressive, and I don’t think its heroine ever was wearing a shirt.

No wonder Mila Kunis turned into the Wicked Witch of the West. She had to spend a large chunk of the movie wearing tight black leather pants and telling Franco that he was the Limitlessly Interesting Chosen One. The pants were so tight Franco delivered a series of strange, unconvincing line readings whenever he stood near her. Actually, he did this the whole movie, come to think of it. I mention her attire not because it is out of the ordinary but because it is depressingly routine. Except this time I remember thinking, “What on earth is the Wicked Witch of the West doing in black leather bandage pants?”

As anyone who saw Franco host the Oscars can attest, his charms are not unlimited. He plays the Wizard as though he expects someone else to play the Balrog.

Yet without fail in the movie, his character shows up, whips out a music box and the women swoon. Some of these women are capable of firing lightning from their fingertips. But no. “I recently published a short story collection,” Franco murmurs, opening a music box. “Oh,” they say. “Thank Heavens You’ve Come To Save Us.” You wonder why Franco seems so spooked at the prospect of confronting a witch. Doesn’t he realize all he has to do is say “Hello” and they fall for him, in defiance of all probability? Surely he possesses some potent magic.

It wasn’t that there was a dearth of female characters. There were actually a good many. But they were all so impressed by Franco. Their lives revolved around him. The whole plot of Oz turned into a weird catfight over Franco, with heroines and villains handily flagged by hair color. The only person who found him underwhelming was the one we were supposed to be rooting against.

This movie would have been so, so much easier if it had just had a female lead. Instead, we had to watch Rachel Weisz, Kunis and Michelle Williams repeatedly tell Franco that there were some obvious things that Needed To Be Done Right Now to Save Oz, but They Couldn’t Possibly Do Them Because There Was A Prophecy That Said James Franco Would Do Them. As usual, Glinda the Good works hard to save Oz – which, in this movie, means she sits around for large chunks of the film waiting for Franco to think of something. One second, she’s a capable witch, able to fly and raise fog and protect a whole kingdom with her benevolent magic. The next, her only power seems to be to give Franco pep talks.

The film had some redeeming characteristics. The Wizard’s awed hero-worship of Thomas Alva Edison was pretty endearing, in its way.

Still, if I never again have to watch an actress look into the eyes of Franco and pitifully intone, “So the prophecy is true! You are the only one who can save us,” I will have led a good life. By the eighth or ninth repetition this became ridiculous and I began to shake my cellphone vigorously to see what era it was.

I don’t understand why you’d want to rule Oz. It is a land composed entirely of bad CGI and People Incapable Of Independent Agency. George Lucas said that in creating a world part of what you did was for plot movement and part was for your own personal interests and psychological eccentricities and part was whimsy. Oz lacks whimsy. You can tell something lacks whimsy when it expects you to find a Giant 3D Flower really, really impressive.

The film redeems itself somewhat in the final act. The witches have a nice duel. Everyone plays a part. But it still leaves a sour taste.

“I can’t die!” the wizard shouts, early in the film. “I haven’t accomplished anything yet!”

James Franco has dreams and ambitions. He wants to be like Thomas Edison. Michelle Williams has dreams and ambitions: She wants James Franco to be like Thomas Edison, too! The only female character who had a recognizable goal that she didn’t have to sit around and wait for Franco to accomplish for her was the wicked witch responsible for these problems in the first place. By the end I was almost rooting for her.

It’s good for 1939, I guess. I expected more from 2013.

Also, Zach Braff made an annoying monkey. Save the money and stay home with Dorothy.

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