OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has a lot going for it—cutting-edge CG, a decent script, and Spider-Man and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, who's built a whole career out of creating new universes on film. And while it might seem an impossible task to replicate the greatness of 1939's Wizard of Oz, this prequel is still a wonder to behold—from a visual standpoint, at least, it matches and sometimes betters the original.
Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a traveling huckster magician nicknamed "Oz" whose ability to woo the ladies far exceeds his magical talents. On the run from an angry suitor, Oz is picked up by a tornado and transported to a lushly outfitted alternate universe—which is also, coincidentally, called Oz. There he's advised that, according to prophecy, he's a great wizard who will kill a wicked witch and return Oz to its former greatness. So he travels to the Emerald City, where he'll somehow have to convince the residents he's not just a devilishly handsome fake.
The setup is all very talky and loaded with too much exposition—but when Oz, his flying monkey sidekick (Zach Braff), and his heartbreakingly adorable pal China Girl (Joey King) finally go on their witchhunt, the film finds its groove. In fact, the final battle sequence is so mesmerizing, it beats the 1939 version by a fair margin. It's all absolutely gorgeous, thanks to Raimi's keen eye for detail, and I'd unequivocally recommend this movie—if it weren't for the casting. Franco is simply too lethargic for the role, and Mila Kunis, as one of Oz's many witches, shows none of her usual spark. Unfortunately, their bland performances sink the work of an otherwise terrific cast. That said, when the Wicked Witch of the West cackles and flies off on her broom, painting the sky black? Practically all is forgiven.