Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins attend the UK premiere of John Carter at The BFI Southbank on March 1, 2012 in London, England.
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
A genuine sci-fi action epic, John Carter exceeds expectations with well-drawn characters, a literary storyline, and wonderful space creatures. John Carter presents nothing new to the science-fiction/action universe but manages to succeed in being an entertaining, imminently watchable genre epic. Led by some fantastically realized martians and martian ships, John Carter excels in its imagery. Thanks in large part to director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), the movie makes up for its flawed plot line by bombarding the audience with epic fight sequences and dazzling effects.
Based on the notion John Carter was built to entertain, the film is a complete success. Critically, the film looks like Dune, has plot points seen before in Avatar, and borrows a number of concepts directly from Star Wars (speeder bikes, identical sound effects, and a gladiator fight with a giant creature). The movie repackages all these elements but does a fine job of gift-wrapping them for mass consumption.
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' pulp classic, A Princess of Mars, John Carter begins in 1880s Arizona where a Confederate soldier named John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is prospecting, seeking his fortune. He stumbles upon a sacred cave, lined with gold, and finds a strange looking man inside holding a medallion. Carter kills the man and finds himself transported to a strange red desert: Mars.
Upon arrivng, Carter finds he is able to leap to sky-scraping heights because of Mars' gravity. A predictable sequence offers some comic-relief as the hero stumbles around while acquainting himself with his new surroundings. It's then Carter meets the natives. Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), the Jeddak (leader) of a nomadic band of 10 foot-tall aliens called Tharks, finds the human and is taken aback by his jumping ability. Tars Tarkas captures Carter and they return to their camp where the Tharks imprison him.
The Tharks are essentially a band of savages. Without any semblence of real emotion, they torture one of their own for a minor transgression and are ruled by a hierarchy which rewards an alpha male for physically defeating any challenger. Mars, or Barsoom as the natives call it, is a barbaric environment. The Tharks, wonderful-looking six-limbed insect-like creatures, battle other tribes of Tharks as well as the humanoid cities of Helium and Zodanga. The entire planet seems to be at war and our hero is now caught in the middle.
Carter becomes invested in the city of Helium when the Tharks also capture Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the princess of Helium. A determined scientist and leader, she has been studying a powerful energy which the Zodangan King, Sab Than (Dominic West) has already obtained and is using to gain control of Barsoom. Sab Than has proposed a peace between the two cities if Dejah Thoris agrees to be his wife.
Carter becomes a dominant force on Barsoom, saving the Princess' life and destroying any opponent who faces him. The best scene in the movie shows Carter, alone, facing off against an army of Tharks which he masterfully fillets as the bodies pile up around his feet. As dominant space heros go, Carter has no equal.
The rest of the story plays out amidst a succession of great battle sequences. The colesium scene, where Carter battles two "white apes" (which look like Wampas on steroids) while chained to a massive boulder is a seriously great action sequence. Carter breaks off a chunk of the boulder and swings it like a giant mace, clubbing one of the white apes like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Director Stanton's first live-action feature is an impressive one. Like Brad Bird did with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol last year, Stanton has made a flawless transition from animation to live-action by incorporating breathless CGI sequences with first-rate stunt work. The film's budget of $250 million seems to have been put to good use. It looks fantastic, although it's not a great 3D picture.
The cast of John Carter is another strength. The decision to make the chisled Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) the lead was a smart move. A more well-known actor might have taken viewers out of the film. A relative unknown allows the audience to immerse itself in the experience. Likewise, Collins as Dejah Thoris stands out for her obvious alien allure (the martian tattoos are a welcome touch), but she also brings an intelligence and confidence to the character. When she appears in full bridal garb late in the film, one cannot help but remember Princess Leia's slave costume from Return of the Jedi. She is a genuine space heroine.
The obvious comparisons to Star Wars will come, but simply put, John Carter may be the finest example of planetary romance in science-fiction movie making since George Lucas' epic trilogy. There is real chemistry between Kitsch and Collins that is hard to ignore and audiences will believe in these two characters, no small feat for a big budget genre film. Combine this achievement with the wonderfully-conceived Martians (the "quick dog " deserves special mention as Carter's faithful ally - he is a delight) and the result is a daring, exciting film that should annihilate box office competition this Spring.. at least until The Hunger Games arrives.
See more photos from the premiere of John Carter: