“John Carter” Movie Review


     I’ll leave aside the apparent debate over whether or not Disney’s new film “John Carter” was justified a $250 million plus budget and stick with just the film itself.  There have been many big budget gambles in recent film history and just like anything if the studio proves right then all is well.  Think “Titanic” and “Avatar” as recent examples.  When it’s all said and done, “John Carter” might not come anywhere near the box office riches of those two films, but I wouldn’t mind if Hollywood could make it more of a habit churning out something along these lines a little more often.  “John Carter”, to be sure, is a spectacular 3D adventure containing elements of what made “Star Wars” so special and what made “Stargate” so unique.  This is an unknown brand.  A film that dares to begin a new franchise instead of rebooting an old one.  I’d be shocked if someone saw this film and didn’t emerge from the theater satisfied.

     Director Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E” and “Finding Nemo”) takes a stab at live action storytelling (sort of) in this epic tale of a Civil War veteran who suddenly finds himself on Mars in the midst of an intergalactic war.  Played by Taylor Kitsch, John Carter is first seen as a Civil War era deserter.  After his wife and son are killed, he determines he fights for no one.  While being hunted down by both Confederate soldiers and Apache Indians, he enters a cave where he encounters and kills a strange being.  When he takes a medallion off of the being, he is instantly transported to Mars.

     Since we’ve never been there, I suppose Mars is still up for interpretation as to its lay out, its atmosphere, and its indigenous population.  When Carter arrives he is able to breath on his own (No, his eyes don’t pop out of his head like Arnold’s in “Total Recall”!) and he soon discovers he has superhuman strength and stamina that allows him to jump great distances.  Think Superman and the powers he gets being on Earth rather than Krypton.  Minutes after his arrival, Carter is captured by an alien race called the Tharks, who are tall skinny green creatures with huge tusks and four arms.  In the initial stages of their encounter, Carter and the Tharks can’t communicate, but after drinking some type of potion he can suddenly understand them.

     The being I spoke of earlier who Carter kills is part of an immortal race who is charged with ensuring things go a certain way from planet to planet.  In Greek Mythology, the Gods would, as an example, give Perseus a sword, shield, and helmet to help him defeat a certain enemy.  In this story, these beings function in the same way.  They give General Sab Than (Dominic West) the power of the “ninth ray” to ensure his Zodanga armies defeat the Helium armies and control the planet.  In addition, General Than has also requested the hand of a Helium Princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) as an alternative to the Helium people being crushed by his army.  This is the plan the immortal beings seem to send in motion, but John Carter puts a wrench in it.

     “John Carter” is full of epic battles, plenty of humor, and many interesting characters.  I think it’s rather refreshing to see a film like this as a valiant attempt at putting out something original.  Time will tell whether the public buys it.  We know people will go out in droves to see the latest “Transformers” debacle, but they are turning this down?  Strange indeed.  I suppose an A-list star or two would’ve helped wet the public’s appetite a bit.  If Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt were on the poster as “John Carter”, would that have made the difference?  Taylor Kitsch isn’t too incredibly charming as the lead and the rest of the human actors really aren’t either, but the digital cast (which includes Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church) is good and quite memorable.  The story, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars”, is excellent and multi layered with a nice twist at the end.  It’s to bad literary fare that made “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” into films seem to always succeed, but a film based on the works of a famed author like Burrows is ignored almost completely. And lets face it, this has all the look of a film with a $250 million price tag, it just seems to be missing that element of pop culture the young masses seem to yearn for.  For my dollar, I’ll take what “John Carter” offers instead, as it is sure to please you and your whole family.  GRADE: B