John Carter

Edgar Rice Burroughs is famous for literary creations that have inspired countless generations and given birth to numerous film and television projects. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody not familiar with Tarzan, one of Burrough’s great series. John Carter of Mars is another one, and at long last has finally made it to the big screen.

The film is based on the first book of eleven, a series that began in 1911 and ran through 1964 when the last book was published posthumously. John Carter stars Tylor Kitsch as the title character, a bitter Civil War veteran who, despite an accomplished service record, no longer wants anything to do with the military. Instead he is fixated upon finding a cave of gold.

Despite the fact that he served for the Confederacy, John Carter draws the attention of the U.S. Cavalry whose leader is anxious to recruit an officer of Carter’s skills and experience to aid them in their skirmishes with the Apache tribes. No longer willing to fight or get involved, Carter declines the offer but soon finds himself caught in the middle of an unplanned battle between both sides. As he attempts to find shelter for himself and a wounded officer, Carter accidentally stumbles upon the cave of gold he was seeking.

Carter’s surprise soon turns to shock when he’s attacked by a mysterious individual who presses a glowing amulet in his hand and utters a phrase that transports John Carter instantly to the planet Mars. Of course, Carter at first has no idea where he is but soon realizes that he has incredible leaping abilities due to the lower gravity of the planet.
Shortly after his arrival he gains the attention of Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), the chief of a race of tall, skinny, four armed alien warriors. At first intrigued by Carter, Tarkas and his people become divided over what to do with the new arrival. This becomes further complicated when airships arrive and begin a massive gunbattle. Carter immediately leaps into action with his newfound ability which quickly gains the attention of Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of the city of Helium.

It is learned that Princess Dejah is being forced to marry an evil warlord who possesses an awesome destructive ability and is using it to subjugate all those he encounters. Desperate to save their city, the princess is offered up to appease the warlord. Naturally this does not sit well with the free-spirited and feisty princess and before long she and John Carter find themselves united in their quest to save Helium. Despite his reluctance to get involved and fight, Carter realizes the princess may be his only way to get home.

A stranger in a strange land, with danger all around him, John Carter takes his audience on an epic adventure. Despite having little star power, the movie works exceptionally well with amazing special effects. The CGI used to create the various alien characters infuses them with personality and vitality rarely seen in artificially created characters. The film is visually spectacular from the legions of aliens locked in combat, to the stark splendor of the planet and its inhabitants.

Even though the film was presented in converted 3-D which, as many of you will know has long been a very touchy subject with me, the final product was actually better than most conversions. While it was nowhere near the quality of films shot in 3-D, it nonetheless offered an immersive quality to epic battle scenes and did not rely on the gimmicky trick of trying to make things pop out of the screen in order to sell the film.

Kitsch does a great job handling the action of the film and manages to interact with his CGI costars in a believable enough manner to establish as much chemistry with them as he did with the flesh and blood Collins. Although some moments of the film drag, it does have enough action to sustain the nearly two-hour runtime with a touch of humor and romance thrown in for good measure.

I first became aware of the film a year ago at the D23 Expo when Disney showed a few clips and had Kitsch, Collins and Dafoeon hand to promote the pending release. While intriguing, I did not see anything that really made the film stand out as a must-see. I am very happy to say that upon seeing the completed film, the scenes that were shown to us not only had even greater effects in the finished product but were also much more entertaining and dynamic once shown within the full context of the story line.

Director Andrew Stanton, who has made a name for himself with his animated films at Pixar, skillfully blends live-action and CGI to create a very energetic and enjoyable action-adventure film that was a very pleasant surprise.
While the acting, character development, and plot are nothing spectacular in and of themselves, they combined well and set the stage effectively for what should be a series of John Carter films in the future.

3.5 stars out of 5