What Are Critics Saying About James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful?


Oz the Great and Powerful premieres this weekend to just okay reviews. Our David Edelstein asserted that if you recall 1939’s The Wizard of Oz fondly, this movie “will surely wipe the smile off your face.” At the center of many jeers is James Franco, who plays Oz, the man at the center of the film itself. Critics knocked his incessant self-awareness, his aloofness, and, most commonly, his grin. (Come on, James, everyone knows wizards do not grin.) A lot of people brought up his also not-enjoyed, grinning turn as host of the Oscars, and others liked to mention that he is no Robert Downey Jr., the actor who was first hoped to take on the role. (RDJ’s grin is one critics like.) Edelstein wrote: “Franco is unconvincing generally, tamping down the passion, ironicizing everything out.” Now here’s what everyone else has been saying about James Franco, the not-so-wonderful wizard of Oz.

“A couple of the actors are on shaky ground to begin with – and I’m talking to you here, James Franco. Franco seems miscast as Oz – there’s more of a smirk than a twinkle in this huckster’s eye.” — Austin Chronicle

“Franco often looks as overwhelmed by the task as he was by his hosting job on Oscar night.” — AV Club

“Franco is, frankly, too callow, too feckless, too much the dude for this role.” — Boston Globe 

“The problem is, Franco’s a lot more believable playing slimy than sincere, and the part requires him to do both. It’s a steady but less-than-captivating performance.” — Chicago Sun Times

“Franco, who can be great fun on screen, is capable of many things. Rhetorical flourish and theatrical brio aren’t two of them. When asked to bamboozle the gullible customers on Earth or in Oz (“It was nothing, just a little prestidigitation-ist display”), you worry that he won’t make it through some of his lines alive. And yet he seems to be having a ball up there.” — Chicago Tribune

“Robert Downey Jr. was originally attached to play Oz, and when you watch the miscast Franco, it’s hard not to fantasize about the unpredictable fizz RDJ would have goosed the film with.” — Entertainment Weekly

“While Raimi’s original choice of Robert Downey Jr. probably would’ve been better suited, Franco makes it his own, and again proves his can be an underestimated leading man.” — Indiewire

“Franco’s portrayal calls to mind the actor’s self-satisfied turn as host of the Academy Awards, giving the magician a callow, pleased-with-himself aura (he is accurately described later in the film as ‘selfish, slightly egotistical and a fibber’). While having Franco start out this way is intentional, the actor is frankly too adept at being irritating, so much so that his presence makes it harder to enjoy the rest of the movie.” — L.A. Times

“Franco fares badly when he’s forced to hold conversations with characters who aren’t really there: He looks as bored and distracted as he did when he hosted the Oscars, and he relies too much on a wide grin that makes him look manic instead of charming.” — Miami Herald 

“Franco’s slick self-awareness — which is reaching its expiration date — does perfectly represent the film’s superficial tone.” — New York Daily News

“This Oz is played by, of all people, the odd, peripatetic, slightly pretentious James Franco…In the scenes in which he faces innumerable perils adapting to his new life in Oz, a lighter touch is needed than he is able to provide. As his lumpy, humorless chores as an Oscar host proved, comedy is not his forte.” — New York Observer 

“The prequel isn’t helped by its casting. Robert Downey Jr., an early contender for the title role, would have been a far better choice for the fast-talking Oscar than Franco, whose wan, postmodern approach often makes him come off as if he’s playing an actor playing Oscar.” — New York Post

“Although he brings some tangible, real feeling to the scene of Oz mending China Girl, Mr. Franco looks pretty pained in most of his scenes with them, and it’s hard to blame him. Whether embarrassed by the material or just uneasy performing in such a computer-generated atmosphere, he never finds a way to make the wizard pop.” — New York Times

“It’s a movie that, at moments, curiously combines Franco’s mainstream, crowd-pleasing instincts with his postmodern, experimental bent. Most of the time, though, it’s a confusing mishmash featuring a fine actor too willfully operating outside his comfort zone.” — The Oregonian

“A flat, awkward central performance by James Franco.” — Salon

“Played with a strangely incongruous sourness by James Franco.” — Slate

“Some blame has to fall on the versatile Franco, who can convincingly inhabit almost any character…but who lacks the con-man star quality of his sleaze turned superhero. His gummy smile is the rictus of a poseur second class; his musk is of flop sweat.” Time

“Most of the problems stem from the casting: Franco is a distinctly uninspiring Oz, which works for the early scenes, but is near disastrous when he assumes his predestined roles of liberator, savior and big giant head. The actor’s two default modes—stoned indifference and performance-art aloofness—do not an invigorating leader make.” — Time Out New York

“But Franco is such a shifty, inward-facing eccentric that he seems like he should be selling tickets to some lurid cabinet of curiosities instead of snake oil to the masses. He delivers his lines with the sneering warble of the young Dennis Hopper, and when he flashes his strained smile it’s more disturbing than dashing, less young wizard than young Norman Bates.” — Village Voice

“Kunis doesn’t have much of a partner in Franco, whose laid-back, half-mast coolness bears no resemblance to the manipulative sharpie Oz is supposed to be. When Franco says the word ‘prestidigitation’ behind his stoner’s grin, it’s as if he’s uttering it for the first time in English class.” — Washington Post

What the Critics Said About James Franco As Oz