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It would be easier to overlook Oscar's aborted conversion or relegate it to a clumsy, rote, aside were it not for a prolonged and problematic plot thread that has the people of Oz mistaking (or are they?) him for the fulfillment of the prophecy that states that a savior will fall from the sky and save them all. As Oz take-offs go, Gregory Maguire's Wicked contained some anthropological indictments of religion—it divided people and made them more easy to conquer—but it was more palatable than Oz the Great and Powerful's tired take, that the phoniness of carnival magician is at the core of all faith. "When we do believe," Glinda insists, "anything is possible." Sorry, but no, that's not true, and faith in faith is a poor substitute for faith in something real. Otherwise the film wouldn't need Oscar to pretend in order to bring the people together.

Oscar's transformation is not the only one the film fumbles. Theodora's transformation into the Wicked Witch is portrayed as half Oscar's fault, half Evanora's, her sister (Rachel Weisz). Kunis is a tremendous and underutilized talent, but even she can't gloss a script that can't quite figure out how to get from point A (sincere, good witch) to point B (villain of the next movie) while making Oscar somehow both the catalyst for her change but not responsible for it in any way that really smarts. (Surely I am not the only viewer who thinks Theodora's name—"lover of God"—is itself a backhanded dig at religious belief? It is the sincere believer who is most easily fooled, most easily offended, most easily hurt, and most readily turns to rebellion to justify her own hurt.)

Some viewers will be grateful to have anything PG to take their kids to, and others will embrace the film's attempts to sidestep the endorsement of redemptive violence. But the film's anti-religiousness is a bit of a poison pill to swallow along with the good stuff.

And there is something mildly smug and a little misogynistic about Oscar's public offer of amnesty (a pale shadow of the deeper virtue of forgiveness) to Theodora as she flies away, defeated. Boys will be boys, and men will be boys on occasion, but woman no redemption knows: isn't Oscar going to lie to Dorothy Gale and try to trick her into murdering Theodora in The Wizard of Oz? Having found himself in the path of all "good hearted souls" after repeated coaxing and wooing, his (and the film's) lackadaisical attempts at reconciliation seem strangely pro-forma and obviously half-hearted. Mistakes were made, but it's time for the movie to end, so no more nonsense about mixed parts, goats to the left, sheep to the right and no questioning that adjudication allowed.

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Oz the Great and Powerful