PLOT: A Civil-War vet, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is magically plucked from our world, and transported to Barsoom- aka Mars, which is being ravaged by an evil warlord named Sab Than (Dominic West) who’s under the control of a race of ancient, all-powerful beings, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Carter allies himself with a warlike race called the Tarks, which are eight-foot tall green creatures, ruled by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) in order to find a way home, but he must also contend with a headstrong princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who’s trying to escape her forced marriage to Than, and believes he’s the man to save her and her people.
REVIEW: Well, it’s finally here. After a development process that went into decades, the long-awaited film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” finally makes its way to the silver screen. Disney’s put at least $250 Million into what it hopes will be the start of a new billion dollar franchise, but is the end result worth all the bother?
While I don’t know that any film is worth a quarter of a billion dollars (and that’s not even counting P&A), JOHN CARTERis quite a good film. It’s a lavish, beautifully made fantasy adventure, and once certainly can’t accuse the producers, or director Andrew Stanton (of Pixar’s FINDING NEMO) of having made a lazy film, as CARTER is anything but.
Burroughs’ series of books has been mined over and over again, for everything from FLASH GORDON, to STAR WARS, to DUNE, to AVATAR, so one can forgive the makers if the film feels slightly familiar, as the source material set many of the archetype’s that are still found in most grandiose fantasy epics. JOHN CARTER was the grand-daddy of them all, and to that end, Stanton has obviously done his damnedest to make a film that can stand toe-to-toe with the heavyweights of the genre.
Now, I’m not saying JOHN CARTER is the new STAR WARS, but you’ve got to hand it to Stanton for taking a real stab at it. There are a lot of things about Carter that are just about perfect. The one thing that immediately sticks out is the score by Michael Giacchino, with this being, in my mind, the best thing he’s ever written. The JOHN CARTER theme is immediately distinguishable right from the get-go, when we get our first, shadowy introduction (a la RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) to the man that will be taking us through this epic adventure.
As for our hero himself, I was sold on Kitsch pretty much right off the bat. While it would have made a lot more sense for Disney to have anchored this with an established star, the use of a virtual unknown (yes, yes- I know he was Gambit in WOLVERINE) is actually not a bad idea in that you immediately see him not as Taylor Kitsch playing John Carter, but rather that he actually IS Carter, with no movie star baggage keeping us from accepting him as anything less.
Kitsch certainly has the physical look to play Carter, with him having a lean, wiry-but muscular look that’s a contrast from some of the burlier action heroes. It suits the part to a tee. He’s also very charismatic, and seems confident carrying such a massive production, which is a vital attribute that’s sunk a lot of would-be blockbusters.
The thing that’s ultimately going to be the deciding factor for whether or not JOHN CARTERis going to be the kind of film you can totally give in to is how quickly you’re able to buy into the world of Barsoom. This is certainly the thing that’s either going to make or break CARTER at the box office, but for me, it was a non-issue. While Barsoom isn’t quite as immersive as something like Pandora (the tepid 3D doesn’t help- although I saw this is REAL-D, not IMAX), I still had an easy time getting into the swing of things. I loved the Tarks, thanks mostly to Willem Dafoe’s great voice/motion-capture work as Tark Tarkas, which humanizes his character the same way someone like Zoe Saldana did in AVATAR. The rest of the Martians are even easier to buy, as they’re all human looking minus a slight red pigmentation, and the fact that they bleed blue (which, allows Carter to spill buckets of blue blood without threatening the PG-13 rating). Lynn Collins (another WOLVERINE alum) is gorgeous, and likable as the headstrong, Princess Leia-ish Dejah Thoris, and while her romance with Carter should have maybe been given a bit more time to build, it can’t be denied that the two have effective chemistry.
As much as I like JOHN CARTER, it’s not a perfect film, although the faults are minor. For one, there’s an awful lot of exposition, which I suppose is a necessary evil for a series-launching film like this, but rather than explaining each and every thing about Barsoom at its inhabitants, Stanton and Co., might have been just as well off leaving some of that for potential sequels. I also thought the climax came a little too quickly, and a better mano-a-mano battle royal between Carter and the chief baddies would have been a welcome addition. Of course, this is only meant to be part one of the Carter saga, so I suppose a bigger showdown for Part 2 is in the cards if enough people flock to theaters.
Overall, JOHN CARTER was a really pleasant surprise for me, as all the hubbub about the blockbusting budget, unknown leading man, and general confusion around the premise (dropping MARS from the title was a colossal blunder- and the full title on-screen is JOHN CARTER OF MARS) had me thinking I’d be watching a sci-fi ISHTAR. Thankfully, JOHN CARTER is nothing of the sort, and I had a terrific time with it, and I truly think the majority of you will too. Ignore the buzz, and make up your own minds.