Epic in scope and dynamic in imagery, John Carter is a fun and thrilling old school blockbuster that owes much to the superb direction of Andrew Stanton.
Before there were comic book heroes there were adventure novelists and one of the best was Edgar Rice Burroughs who is chiefly known for his 11 volume “Barsoom” series, which told the tale of Earth man John Carter’s adventures on Mars.
John Carter the movie is based on the first Barsoom book “Princess of Mars”. Like all beginnings of a franchise it is an origin story and if what director Andrew Stanton has done here is any indication, there are sure to be many sequels to follow.
Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter, a civil war veteran whose search for a mysterious gold cave inadvertently leads to his mysterious transportation to Mars, where the change in atmosphere gives him super human strength and agility (naturally). Unknowingly John has escaped one civil war only to find himself in the middle of another, with various tribes and alien races at war for the right to rule Barsoom (the native word for Mars).
Featured are green skinned six limbed behemoths named “Tharks”, blue skinned chrome dome watchers of the galaxy known as “Holy Therns”, and a beautiful red skinned humanoid princess named Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who is forced to marry her enemy (Dominic West) in order to save her city of Hellium from annihilation.
If you’re feeling dizzy from an overdose of information, join the club. At times it’s all too much to keep up with as many different characters jockey for position. The 132 minutes runtime is another problem, with cuts needed here and there to make this a much smoother experience.
Yet lucky for us John Carter is directed by Stanton, one of the wizards of Pixar Studios who brings a keen sense of adventure, character and humour to the proceedings.
Stanton’s first venture into live action filmmaking (previous credits include animation classics Finding Nemo and WALL-E) finds the right balance between vintage action fantasy and modern day blockbuster filmmaking, as if The Planet of the Apes, Flash Gordon and Avatar were morphed into one.
Another key attribute to this film’s success is the casting of Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, who in look and action makes a great hero, leaping vast distances and fighting the bad guys while showing off his fighting fit physique. John Carter is the first of three films released in 2012 with Kitsch at the lead (the others being Battleship and Savages). Look for this star to rise considerably.
Lynn Collins is also well cast as the beautiful yet deadly princess (while also making a case for why filmmakers should look to her as a future Wonder Woman). But the best performances are of the motion capture variety, with the alien creatures superbly crafted by its VFX team and portrayed by the likes of Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton.
John Carter is a fun blockbuster. There is fun in its action scenes, in its jaw dropping imagery (love the scenes shot in Utah’s spectacular Lake Powell) and especially in its surprising sense of humour that Stanton melds well with its brand of sci-fi spectacular.
There has been much fretting about the quality of this $250 million picture. Rest assured Stanton has created a blockbuster worth the money spent and worth spending money on at the cinema.