John Carter 03
2012 Running time: 127 Certificate: 12 Rating: 3
KA John Carter

Synopsis

American Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself transplanted to Mars, where he is imprisoned by green barbarians, before fighting evil-doers on behalf of a beautiful native princess. A previous adaptation entered development hell when pre-production first started for it in 1931, when the director of Looney Tunes approached author Edgar Rice Burroughs to turn his fantasy romp into an animated feature. But with Andrew Stanton, aka Mr Pixar, at the helm, this live action-CG version has finally reached our earthly screens.

Director

  • Andrew Stanton

Cast

  • Taylor Kitsch

  • James Purefoy

  • Mark Strong

  • Lynn Collins

  • Willem Dafoe

Review

A lot of people have been expecting John Carter, the sci-fi epic with a $250 million budget and a chequered Hollywood history, to fail.

And with innumerable plot strands, absurd names and a premise that feels derivative of both Star Wars and Flash Gordon, it does come across as confusing and, at times, downright silly.

And yet, against all odds, this undeniably flawed film is actually rather likeable too.

Based on A Princess of Mars, a pulp novel by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film follows American civil war veteran John Carter as he is inexplicably catapulted from a sorrowful existence in the ol' West to an heroic one on the red planet.

Like The Matrix's Neo, the ordinary Carter finds that in this brave new world (Mars, or "Barsoom" as the locals call it) he has extra skills - namely, great strength and the ability to jump great distances, allowing for a wonderful panoramic introduction to this strange land (which looks suspiciously like Monument Valley)

Also like Neo, Carter may just be the knight in shining armour this planet has been waiting for. Barsoom's cities are at war, with the human-like citizens of Helium battling the Zodangans, and the big green Tharks fighting amongst themselves.

The Prince of Zodanga (a delightfully grimacing Dominic West) wants to be king of, well, everything, but doesn't realise he is being manipulated by omniscient shape-shifter Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who is in fact one of three holy men secretly controlling the universe.

And meanwhile, of course, Carter is busy falling in love with the betrothed but feisty princess/scientist Dejah Thoris, escaping from the Tharks' evil pretender to the throne and making friends with a gravity-defying dog-monster thingy.

Got that? No, us neither. The problem with John Carter is it is too ambitious for its own good.

Why are the shape-shifters trying to destroy everything? What has Tars Tarkas's daughter got to do with anything? And, fabulous though the white ape is, how on Barsoom are creatures ten times smaller than it able to keep it incarcerated? Frankly, most of this film makes little-to-no sense.

And yet... and yet, there's nothing cynical about any of it. Despite its mammoth budget this film feels like a genuine labour of love, an old school fantasy epic that is the product of a comic geek's real affection for the characters.

There is a likeable, if occasionally cheesy, innocence about the actors too - Friday Night Lights' brooding Taylor Kitsch isn't as famous in the UK as he is across the pond, but he soon will be (Battleship ahoy!).

The warmth of director Andrew Stanton, the man behind Finding Nemo and Wall.E, comes through, not least in mostly seamless blend of impressive CGI, green screen and live action, creating an adventure that feels real and fantastical at the same time.

Fans of Star Wars, Superman, The Matrix, Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian and Avatar? You may indeed feel like you've seen this film before.

But all in one place? That's something new, at least.

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