Rapscallion and traveling magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco), you can call him Oz, performs acts for audiences across the dusty roads of Kansas. He's not happy with his place in life and a conflict presented in the form of a cuckolded strong man makes Oz's decision to escape all too easy.
A tornado whisks Oscar off to a foreign land where there are none of the problems that plague his life.
He is greeted on the shore by a woman who doesn't fit the general description of a witch. Theodora (a game Mila Kunis) explains to Oz that his arrival in their land is foretold by a prophecy and he will be the wizard to save the kingdom of vast riches. Without much hesitance, Oz tells Theodora that he is in fact the answer to their prayers.
Theodora, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) are the three powers that reside in Emerald City. The sisters are feuding and in order for Oz to claim the throne, he must defeat the wicked witch who slayed the previous King. Oz agrees to this condition while forgetting he isn't an actual wizard.
Sleight of hand won't save Oz if he wants to defeat the wicked witch and his habit of forming enemies with women he meets also poses challenges. Fortunately, he went have to do it alone, aid comes in the form of a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff), and a china doll (Joey King).
Selecting James Franco as the titular Oz was a curious choice, while Franco is a showman in most regards, he seems miscast for this role. A prequel to The Wizard of Oz requires a lead man with a sense of authority even if he questions himself. Oz needed a charismatic actor to pull it together.
Sam Raimi does what he can with this huge project (a few of his trademark scares), but there is only so much he can bring to a Disney tentpole. These flicks have been focus grouped and tested so that they appeal to as large an audience as possible. Tinkering with the formula is generally frowned upon, but Raimi knows where to hide some visual flourish.
There is a sense of too many endings before the film closes out, but it is a slight addition so the overall effect isn't lost, though franchise building is definitely felt.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is made up of too many moods to coalesce into a tonally consistent film. There are winks from Army of Darkness, candy-colored visuals from Alice in Wonderland and heartwarming moments from the original Oz. The tonal twist and turns are a little distracting and the lead feels too disingenuous to make it work entirely, but background characters like Finley and China girl (lovingly rendered pieces of SFX) present some warmth to a story that suffers a little too often from a post-modern sense of irony.
**1/2 out of ****