From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comesÂ "John Carter"-a sweeping action-adventure set onÂ the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). "John Carter" is basedÂ on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. TheÂ film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who isÂ inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiledÂ in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants ofÂ the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and theÂ captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).Â In a worldÂ on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survivalÂ of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.
Taylor Kitsch ("Friday Night Lights") is John Carter, a Civil War veteran who, after being chased by the cavalry and a band of Indians to a cave that is full of gold, finds a medallion that transports him to Mars. On Mars, he discovers that, because of the Martian gravity (or lack thereof), he can jump much higher and farther than he can on Earth. This ability coupled with his military training makes him somewhat of a superhero on the red planet. The first beings that he encounters are a race of tall, four-armed horned insect-like creatures called Tharks, whose leader, Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe, although it looks nothing like him - the Platoon actor provided the performance capture) is so impressed by Carter that he makes the earthling his right hand man. When a battle between aircraft comes close enough to the Thark city to see, Carter notices that the fighters appear to be human, and he saves a young girl's life who happens to be a Martian princess named Dejah (Lynn Collins from "Haunted"). It turns out that the group that was trying to kill her has slowly been taking over all of Mars, led by their leader Sab Than (Dominic West from "The Wire"), who will only cease his attacks if the princess will marry him. As John Carter pledges to help the damsel, he soon learns that he may get more than he bargained for, since the entire Martian war seems to have been orchestrated by a group of shape-shifting holy men.
John Carter is serious fun. It's the first live-action film from Disney-Pixar director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), and the film comes off as a love letter to science fiction epics of all eras. It conjures images of space operas past like Flash Gordon and Dune while looking as slick as anything from a Star Wars prequel. Its story is a bit overly complicated and confusing, tripping over itself a few times in the process, but people don't come to movies like John Carter because of the story arc. There's plenty of action, and the story just serves as an underlying reason for all of the action to take place.
Although its roots may lie in old fashioned science fiction, John Carter is not just a run-of-the-mill epic adventure. The plot may sound corny, but it's actually an extremely entertaining watch. The source material is an Edgar Rice Burroughs story called "A Princess of Mars" adapted for the screen by Stanton along with Mark Andrews ("Star Wars: Clone Wars") and Michael Chabon (Spider-Man 2). The writers would probably have been better served to dumb it down a bit for the screen - the film clocks in at over two hours and definitely goes through point C to get from A to B - but the finished product has everything one could ask for in a classic. With its colorful characters, cheer-worthy action sequences and slick visual effects, it's a good thing that the plot plays around so much with space and time; John Carter will keep the youngsters coming back for more films in the franchise.
One of the most fun things about John Carter is that, although it pays homage to the classic sci-fi serials and sagas, it has a look all its own. The flying machines that the humanoid Martians use are not the usual metallic winged spaceships, instead looking more like traditional wooden sea-bound ships with oars and sails, giving the crafts an almost steampunk look, gears and levers and all sticking out all over the place. The weapons are more archaic than usual science fiction films, too, with most of the combatants using swords or spears. The modern primitive approach makes the film look more like a western or a gladiator movie than a science fiction film, with the notable exception of the inclusion of all of the aliens. It's a fun juxtaposition between high and low tech, and it makes John Carter stand out from the typical laser-blasting fare. Overall, the film is visually stunning, making full use of its Utah and New Mexico locations and plenty of CG effects to create an atypical but believable representation of Mars - this is not your father's angry red planet, but it's mass of desert and rocks fits the bill nicely.
John Carter is, first and foremost, an action film. The lulls only exist so that the characters can explain a plot point while the kids catch their breath. In one scene, John Carter fights off an entire enemy army of Tharks single handedly, and the massacre rivals any of the fight scenes from 300. In another scene, Carter and Tars are thrown into an arena to take on a couple of four-armed white apes (really, no kidding), which they do in a style reminiscent of the battle games in Gladiator. Taylor Kitsch takes the physicality of the lead role by the horns and rides it into the ground, smashing his pretty-boy high-school football persona in the process. John Carter gets the blood pumping, the heart racing and the crowd screaming for more.
March 9, 2012