JOHN CARTER. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Colllins, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Mark Strong, James Purefoy; Voices of Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton. Directed by Andrew Stanton. 132 minutes. Rated M (Science fiction violence).
Andrew Stanton won Oscars for his animation classics, Finding Nemo and Wall-E. He won’t be up for many awards for John Carter.
The film has good intentions and an even bigger budget and is in 3D. However, while one would like it to be better, it is rather cumbersome in its storytelling. A pity, because many audiences will enjoy it, but could have enjoyed it more.
It is very much in the Star Wars tradition with its alien planet, its strange special effects characters and creatures, an action hero, and a lively princess, plenty of flying machines and battles.
The film is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story, A Princess on Mars, one of many stories he wrote (while not writing his Tarzan stories) about imaginary life on Mars. It opens in the Star Wars’ vein with futuristic-looking cities, space ship style planes for wars between rival cities, and the introduction of a power-hungry ruler (Dominic West) and the Therms, the elusive rulers of the universe, malicious beings who control power, set up rulers and then watch how populations clash and destroy themselves and their planets. Mark Strong (who seems to be in every other film) is the dignified but deadly chief Therm.
Then we are in New York City, 1881, rainy and dingy, while John Carter eludes a pursuer. Soon we are at his country estate with his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs, discovering his uncle is dead and reading a manuscript he bequeathed him. This manuscript sends Edgar and us back to 1868 and the American west where former confederate cavalryman, John Carter, is not popular with northerners as he searches for gold. Escaping from Apaches, he finds a cave, a dying man and a medallion by which, when a formula is spoken, he is whisked to Mars.
The adventures on Mars involve his discovery by a community of creatures, The Tharks, his meeting the princess and helping her escape to home where she is to be married off to the power hungry ruler to save her city. Before she can be saved, John Carter has to endure a fight with giant white apes in the arena, defeat the usurping leader and rouse the Tharks to rescue the princess and her city.
So, plenty of adventure, plenty of effects and stunts, a solid British supporting cast, including Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy and Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton voicing the Thark characters. Taylor Kitsch, looking a bit Heath Ledgerish (though not moving towards Oscar nominations) is the American hero who comes in and, with some help, still shows how American heroes can come in and save the day, even on Mars.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out March 8, 2012.