The Reel: Franco’s lackluster performance tarnishes the otherwise stunning ‘Oz’ film

Ben Conniff

“Spider-Man” director Sam Raimi brings us family entertainment of grand design with “Oz the Great and Powerful,” a prequel to Victor Fleming’s 1939 cultural milestone “The Wizard of Oz.”

It tells the story of how the Wizard (James Franco) comes to find himself in the merry ol’ Land of Oz and how he saves its people from the hands of wicked witches Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).

Deep characterization of many of Oz’s familiar faces combines with eye-popping visuals and other clever nods to the original to make “Oz the Great and Powerful” a must-see for fans of Fleming’s film, as well as of L. Frank Baum’s classic stories.

I love the depth that writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire lend to the story’s figureheads.

Anyone who’s seen the original film might remember when, at the end, Dorothy discovers that the Wizard isn’t quite the man she’s expecting. He appears to be a man so far out of his element that he’s not quite sure what to do or believe.

This quality was explored in “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and in a way, the Wizard’s journey reminded me of Dorothy’s during her time in Oz, which is pretty cool. Having said that, I think Judy Garland’s wide-eyed wonder is much easier to buy into than James Franco’s.

The depth the writers lend to Franco’s character is tarnished by his performance, which lacks the life necessary to make this movie truly memorable. It all seems like a grand show for Franco, who comes off as an overacting scumbag more often than the good-hearted savior Oz has been yearning for.

This inconsistency makes his “Wizard” very hard to root for.

Thankfully, the same can’t be said about leading ladies Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams. Weisz is deliciously convincing as the wicked temptress Evanora, and Williams brings her classic good looks and charm out to play as Glinda.

But my favorite of the trio is Mila Kunis as Theodora. Her transformation at the hands of the Wizard is truly spectacular, and one could make the case that she is his greatest magic trick of all.

This is Kunis like you’ve never seen her before.

The special effects are also wondrous to behold. The Emerald City is dazzling, and the rest of the land is rich with color and detail. For as over-the-top as many of the stunts and set pieces are, not once did the CGI appear cartoonish or hackneyed.

It’s clear that Raimi’s art department gave their all to do justice to Baum’s and Fleming’s original visions.

There’s still some fun to be had with the astounding visuals, character development and subtle odes to the ’39 classic, but what really ruined “Oz the Great and Powerful” for me was James Franco.

With another actor in the part, perhaps this trip down the yellow brick road could’ve truly lived up to its “great” and “powerful” name. It’s worth seeing if you consider yourself a fan of the original, but if you could care less about making another trip to Oz, save your money.