Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter

Year: 2012
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy

Plot: John Carter, a former United States cavalryman is transported to Mars after an encounter with an alien in a cave. Once there, he gets caught up in a civil war between two sides, Zodanga and Helium. After encountering the Tharks, a savage, four armed, green race of Martians and Helium princess Dejah Thoris, Carter decides to join the fight against Zodanga as he tries to find a way home.

Review: John Carter is Disney's big budget movie for 2012, and it's obvious they spared no expense in bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel to life. From what I hear, this project had been in development hell for years.

But thanks to director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), John Carter is one entertaining piece of work. Any other studio or director could have given this film a modest approach and end up making a mess out of it, but Stanton and company did a great job.

Stanton spends a good amount of time establishing his protagonist, from his adventure in 1868 that leads up to his arrival on Mars (called Barsoom by its inhabitants), right up to the end. This requires Carter to be in nearly every scene, but thankfully it's not a problem as his character is strong and fascinating to follow. John Carter is a Civil War veteran who has given up fighting after his family's death and now lives to find gold wherever they may be. In the process, he encounters a Thern, beings who manipulate events to their own liking, and in the process ends up on Barsoom. He gains respect from Tars Tarkas, leader of the Tharks and meets Dejah Thoris, the princess of Helium, and as expected they fall for one another. Together they fight against Zodanga, led by Sab Than, who is assisted by a Thern named Matai Shang.

The best part of John Carter besides the good establishment of the lead character is the detail and scope of Barsoom and its people. The Tharks in particular look very real and interact well with the human actors. There are also flying ships and giant white apes, and the vast desert is well photographed. All of it looks amazing on screen, and it is worth the price of the ticket alone.

Taylor Kitsch gets his first big budget lead role here, and he does quite well as the rebellious John Carter. He may not have the charm of a young Harrison Ford just yet, but he has the good looks and acting skills to make his role believable enough. Lynn Collins has improved much from her role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as Dejah Thoris here, as she gives the princess an equal balance of courage and vulnerability, and a match for Carter. Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton can only be heard as they portray Tars Tarkas and his daughter Sola respectively, but they were physically there on stilts during filming to interact with the other actors. I liked their characters too. Mark Strong makes a good villain in Matai Shang, but Dominic West doesn't have much to do here as Sab Than.

Some people may say that John Carter borrows from other films like Star Wars, Avatar and maybe even The Adjustment Bureau, but in truth, Burroughs' book was written a century ago, so it's safe to say that it's actually the other way around. To be fair, Stanton has succeeded in making John Carter an entertaining film in its own right. The film is not without flaws though, as some of the lines are corny, and the romance between Carter and Dejah is not fully explored as they hardly exchange any romantic moments with each other.

However, for my money, John Carter is an awesome film. It may not have the epicness of the Star Wars films or the emotional resonance of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but it's never boring and a splendid visual spectacle from beginning to end. (4/5)

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