Review of John Carter


Movie Review: "John Carter"

Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action)
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2012
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

John Carter is a Civil War veteran trying to get back to a normal life in the year 1868. He's imprisoned for refusing to join the army but manages to escape. On the run, he finds refuge in a cave where he finds a stranger holding a medallion. Carter touches the medallion and is transported to Mars, a lush planet inhabited by giant alien barbarians. He finds he's able to things he can't do on Earth while on Mars, like jumping to impossible heights. But then he's taken prisoner by one of the barbarians. He later escapes and finds the princess of Mars, and she asks for his help. This is where Carter learns where he is and why these giants are chasing him. Another tribe is invading the planet, determined to wipe out Dejah and her people. The question is whether John Carter, who wouldn't fight for his country, will take sides in another fight that isn't his own. In the end, John Carter proves to be a true hero, and he helps Dejah and her people defeat the invaders.

While some might consider "John Carter" to be a box office flop, it is far from a bad movie. While it might not be a film of blockbuster caliber, the visual effects alone make it worth seeing. There's a lot of story to pack into a film, which is a challenge since many viewers are familiar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels it is based on, but director Andrew Stanton ("Toy Story," "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc." ) does a pretty solid job of getting as many details as he can into a relatively short amount of time. The biggest challenge for the filmmakers, in this case, might have been that they had too much story to fit into all of that action.

The film remains true to the essence of the books, which is no small achievement. With so many recent book-to-film adaptations being pale versions of the original, "John Carter" stands out as a successful adaptation that will satisfy both fans and newcomers to the story. While Stanton added some plot elements of his own, he still provided an authentic experience for Burroughs fans while creating a visually thrilling film for other moviegoers as well.

Taylor Kitsche ("The Bang, Bang Club," "Friday Night Lights") places an extremely hunky and likable John Carter. The princess, Dejah Thoris, is played by Lynn Collins ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "True Blood"), who makes for a seductively sweet English-accented royal. The two newcomers have palpable chemistry, creating a romance that steals the hearts of moviegoers young and old. Stanton's decision to place relative unknowns into the lead roles was a wise one. Kitsche and Collins proved in this film that they belong in Hollywood, and "John Carter" will find them new fans eager to see more.

Viewers may also enjoy Willem Dafoe ("The Hunter," "4:44 Last Day on Earth") and Thomas Haden Church ("We Bought a Zoo," "Killer Joe") who play Tharks, which are the 10-foot-tall, four-armed green beings that populate Mars. While they may not be recognizable in their roles, the two Hollywood veterans make a memorable turn in "John Carter."

Dominic West ("The Awakening," "Centurion") portrays the deliciously evil Sab Than, leader of the tribe invading Mars, who is trying to steal Dejah for his bride and eradicate her people. His cunning and devious glare creates enough tension to fill the screen on its own, and his actions keep the viewer worried about the outcome for the film's hero.

Possibly the biggest challenge for viewers of "John Carter" will be keeping track of the numerous strange creatures that are running about. While stunningly real, the cast of characters is staggering and sometimes confusing. There is no question that the visual effects create a landscape that is so vivid and real, that viewers will feel they can reach out and touch it. It's difficult to see where the actors and sets end, and the computer magic begins. With so much visual stimulation, it is sometimes difficult to recall where the story is going, and who is doing what.

While the heart-pounding scenes are interrupted by some slow periods of inaction, "John Carter" is such a vivid experience, exploding with imagination, that viewers will not leave disappointed. In true Disney fashion, the ending is a satisfying one, with last lines that are sure to be memorable.