Watching the spectacle that is James Franco feels like watching a great con man. Here’s a proven movie star who made an art film re-enacting the Al Pacino leather-daddy sex thriller Cruising
. As a tribute to the president, he wrote a rambling poem and performed it in bed. Let’s not even discuss the 2011 Oscars. But damned if the handsome bastard isn’t a charmer. So it only makes sense to cast Franco as moviedom’s original master con man in Oz the Great and Powerful
. In The Wizard of Oz
, the “man behind the curtain” was nothing but a carnival magician using smoke and mirrors to maintain the illusion of power. Here, the curtain’s pulled back further to reveal the wizard’s origins as a hack transported from Kansas to Oz, where he must take on an evil witch to save the Munchkins and talking monkeys. It’s a risky endeavor that sounds suspiciously similar to Tim Burton’s horrid Alice in Wonderland
reboot. But in the hands of director Sam Raimi, L. Frank Baum’s world comes fantastically to life. From the black-and-white circus scenes in Kansas to the kaleidoscopic world of Oz, each realm takes on a different aesthetic. One moment, Franco is in a wetland swarmed by cartoonish butterflies. Next, he’s in China Town, made completely of porcelain. But lest this sound too kiddie for the man who directed The Evil Dead
, there’s also the matter of the witches (Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams), who muster a few scares worthy of any Deadite. Oz
is overlong and often cheesy, but those flaws are also part of the charm of a film that doesn’t try to surpass its predecessor so much as supplement it. It’s a carnival magician of a film overflowing with imagination, and to those who come ready to believe, its magic is undeniable.