John Carter, 2012.
Directed by Andrew Stanton.
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, Thomas Haden Church, James Purefoy and Bryan Cranston.
Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is transported to the war-torn planet of Mars and becomes embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions, with the fate of the planet resting in his hands.
Late last year Brad Bird (The Incredibles) made the transition from animation to live-action with the blockbuster spy sequel Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and now his Pixar colleague and fellow Academy Award-winner Andrew Stanton follows suit, swapping the CG-animated worlds of Finding Nemo and WALL-E for the (mostly CG-animated) world of Barsoom with John Carter, Disney’s big-budget adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ hundred-year-old pulp fantasy adventure A Princess of Mars.
Having never read the source material, I was as much of a stranger to the exotic world of Barsoom (Mars) as the eponymous Civil War veteran himself, so obviously I am in no way qualified to judge this film as an adaptation of Burroughs’ original tale. However, with Disney throwing obscene amounts of money into a project that simply doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of established fanbase enjoyed by the likes of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, if John Carter is to have any chance of turning a profit, it’s people like me who the studio are going to have to impress.
For anyone else unfamiliar with the story, the film centres upon a war-weary Captain of the Confederate Army, John Carter (portrayed by Taylor Kitsch), who finds himself transported to the dying world of Barsoom, where he encounters a race of not-so-little green men known as the Tharks. Having developed superhuman strength and agility thanks to the change in gravity, Carter soon becomes an unlikely hero to the alien race, before discovering that the planet is also populated by two warring humanoid factions – the ‘Red Men’ of Helium (the good guys) and Zodango (the bad guys), the latter of whom are supported by god-like beings known as the Therns. After using his newfound powers to rescue Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium (played by Kitsch’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine co-star Lynn Collins), Carter is drawn into a conflict that threatens to destroy Barsoom and must decide whether to put the fate of the alien world before his own quest to return home.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers for John Carter, then you’ll already know to expect a visual treat and the special effects really are top notch through-out, with Stanton providing us with what must surely be the finest recreation of Mars ever put to film. Sadly, that’s not quite enough to ensure success and there are a number of problems with John Carter that unfortunately negate much of the superb effects work. The biggest concern is the fact that everything from the story to the visuals all seems a little too familiar, with comparisons to films such as Avatar, Cowboys & Aliens and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones all fully understandable; despite the fact that the Barsoom series pre-dates these by nigh on a century, to the average moviegoer there’s bound to be a sense of 'been there, done that' with John Carter.
Along with this sense of ‘Dejah-vu’ (sorry), some portions of the film do start to feel a little drawn out at times – particularly those that focus on the human characters – and while Taylor Kitsch delivers a solid turn in the title role, the likes of Collins, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds and Dominic West all deliver fairly stiff performances that really don’t help proceedings much. Fortunately the parts that centre on the Tharks are entertaining and just about manage to keep things from becoming too mundane. Although I’d stop short of saying John Carter gets boring, when a two-hour running time starts to feel more like three, you know that something’s not right somewhere.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ** / Movie ***