Film review: John CarterBy Kim Francis
March 07, 2012
The surprising thing about John Carter is that nobody has made a film about the character before.
Having first appeared in print in 1912 in American author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first Barsoom novel, A Princess of Mars, John Carter was the original superhero.
The film starts at the beginning of the John Carter saga, telling the story of how he came to Mars and found himself at the centre of political and racial tensions on the red planet, known as Barsoom by its inhabitants.
Plagued by conflict, the ravaged planet is dying, and the beautiful Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is eager to find a resolution and save Barsoom. When war-weary American Civil War vet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is transported unexpectedly from Arizona to Mars, it’s the catalyst for change that the princess has been looking for.
The difference in gravity gives Carter extraordinary super powers and he must decide how - and indeed, if - he should use them to help Princess Dejah, and in the process, get himself home. If that’s what he wants, of course…
Over the years, there have been talks first to turn the books into an animation, then Ray Harryhausen expressed an interest in turning the saga into a stop motion extravaganza. There was even a notion in more recent times that Tom Cruise might feature in a live action version. The main obstacle appears to have been the fact that technology was never advanced enough to do justice to the grand scale of the story, until now.
As you watch, you’ll be reminded of numerous movies that have come, gone and stuck around over the years. Everything from British fantasy Krull to Superman and Stars Wars, Blade Runner and Avatar to Cowboys and Aliens owes a debt to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space adventure.
So has the wait to see this on the big screen been worth it? Yes and no. In its favour, it retains the feel of an old fashioned swashbuckling adventure (albeit one set in space), with its exploration of themes pertinent to the era in which it was first written, at the same time as making use of contemporary advances in technology.
For example, it employs performance capture techniques to realise alien races and bring the story to spectacular big-screen life. In these ways, it’s a perfect blend of old and new.
But to its detriment, it has too much flab around its middle. It becomes disorganised and uses way too much exposition, which in turn becomes really wearing on our ability to remain emotionally invested in the characters and story. A great beginning and finale go some way towards making up for its lack of exciting structured set pieces but it is crying out for a series of scenes that make our journey through the film much more thrilling.
Taylor Kitsch, however, is good looking, buff, funny and charismatic in the lead and a wealth of acting talent including Mark Strong, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, James Purefoy and Willem Defoe in supporting roles lends gravitas to the film and should help to draw in audiences.
Go and see John Carter if you reckon it’s your cup of tea - it will most likely leave you anticipating the inevitable sequel.