I like James Franco more often than not. Loved him as a stoner ... loved him as a hiker with an unfortunately small knife getting his arm stuck behind a boulder ... even liked him opposite a motion-capture chimp.
As much as I often like him, he is all wrong for the central character of Oz the Great and Powerful.
The role of Oz calls for somebody with swagger and snarky factor. Franco is just too laid back, too normal for a role that requires old school charm. Yes, he's charming in a modern sort of way (Hey, he was a slayer on General Hospital). In director Sam Raimi's take on the wonderful wizard, you just get the sense that Franco is really straining.
When he smiles in this movie, it almost looks as if he is going to tear his face because he's putting so much into it. His line deliveries are all forced and wigged out. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were offered the role leading up to production. Either would have been a more sensible choice.
The movie acts as a sort of prequel to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz. We see Oz's origins as a desperate carnival magician in Kansas. His eventual trip to Oz via twister is much like the one Dorothy took on her voyage, and the movie plays out in black and white before arrival in Oz, just as it did in '39.
The movie offers up the three witches from the original film as well (one of them, of course, being the one that got squished by Dorothy's house). There's Theodora, played by Mila Kunis as a sort of nice witch with a bad temper that is going to cause a major change in her complexion at some point during the movie. We also get Michelle Williams as bubble-riding good witch Glinda in what is probably the most obvious casting of the year. Finally, there's Rachel Weisz as Evanora, who may or may not be bad.
Of the three, my vote goes to Weisz for best portrayal of an Oz witch. There's a nice mystery to her, and she looks fabulous in her get-up. Williams is fine, if not all that adventurous, as Glinda. Williams has far less warble in her voice as young Glinda. That Glinda in The Wizard of Oz always freaked me out when she spoke. Sounded like somebody was standing next to her and rubbing their finger on her throat really quick while she talked.
The worst of the three is easily Kunis, who just blows it as the character once played by Margaret Hamilton. Raimi's film gives her a reason for becoming wicked, and that reason (jilted love) is STUPID. When Kunis, obviously a sweet woman, is asked to scream and cackle it's unintentionally funny. She sounds like her voice has never gone to such places before, and it just screams "Bad casting!" She comes off like somebody playing the role in a high school production, and if that production were a graded element of some class, she would get an F and be asked to think of another trade in life.
She does have much better boobs in her outfit than Hamilton had, though. Much, much better.
You have the option of seeing Oz in 3-D, and you are probably OK to skip that option. The effects are nothing to get excited about. I wasn't impressed with the looks of the Emerald City. Raimi is obviously going for the fairy-tale-look charm of the original Oz, but he should've shot for more detail and less gloss. You get no real sense of these characters inhabiting another world. They just look as if they are part of a screensaver.
So even if the movie had some better casting, the special effects would still pull the whole thing down. Big special effects movies are rather crappy lately, with The Hobbit, Jack the Giant Slayer and this one all looking odd.
I'm sorry, but I just look at Franco sometimes and expect him to take a hit off a hash pipe or something while the scene is playing out. As for Oz, he's just too aloof for this sort of thing.