Among all the film and TV trailers that dropped during this weekend's Super Bowl game, none has been more discussed than the first teaser for the upcoming two-part movie adaptation of Wizard of Oz-inspired musical Wicked. In the opinion of certain of the internet, the result, far from defying gravity – to namecheck the show's most beloved song – is a flop.
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Bad lighting and colouring; generic special effects. According to the haters, this snippet of Jon M Chu's take on the subversive Broadway hit (which is essentially an origin story for the wicked witch from the classic 1939 movie) looks like a shonky Harry Potter spin-off. Or a SNL skit. Either that or one of the much-hated offerings from the new phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – the Wicked trailer is so visually flat that even its charismatic stars, Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande, resemble undercooked pancakes. A reddit user summed up the general dismay: "This just looks like a pretty bland retelling with all the edge taken off in favour of tacky action CGI shots." An online critic lamented what they described as the "CGI sludge".
Any trailer with so many nods to the original Oz was always going to get a kicking. The flying monkeys, here, don't fill us with dread. And the spires of Emerald City look cut and pasted from a catalogue for drably fantastical homes.
The trailer doesn't just fail when compared to epics from the distant past. Set Wicked next to blockbusters from the last few years and, if the trailer is anything to go by, it still comes up short. Dune (divided into two parts, like Wicked, and made for roughly the same amount of money) was surreal and haunting. Ditto Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, Barbie's Greta Gerwig gave us a spectacle that combined expensively colourful sets and effects with the most inventive and slyly witty of low-fi details.
Then again, let's give Universal some credit. The beauty of Holzman and Schwartz's musical is that, aside from the catchy songs and gritty plot machinations, it completely re-imagines the events of the 1939 classic, creating a whole new world of possibilities for green-skinned witch, Elphaba (Erivo), and her on-off buddy, stereotypical It girl, Glinda. Those coming to the material fresh will probably assume Michelle Yeoh's character, university head, Madame Morrible, is some sort of inspirational, Dumbledore-esque mentor, who wants the young women to fulfil their potential. Yeoh's line in the trailer feels a little robotic: "Once you learn to harness your emotions, the sky's the limit". But if you know what Morrible is up to, that works.
In the same way, those unacquainted with Jonathan Bailey, who plays Elphaba's love interest, Fiyero, might think him unworthy of the mighty Erivo. But Bailey (who was insanely seductive as the Viscount in Bridgerton, as well as distractingly excellent as a hacker in Doctor Who) is an inspired choice. He and Erivo are the sort of wily actors who know exactly how to upend expectations, get us sobbing and/or create sexual heat. If anyone can make Elphaba and Fiyero sing, it's these two.
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