It turns out that Tim Riggins still isn’t much of an actor, but lucky for him and the viewer, John Carter turned out pretty great despite that.
Here’s a preview:
Released March 9, 2012
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon (Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, specifically Princess of Mars.)
Directed by Andrew Stanton (yes, the Andrew Stanton who brought you Finding Nemo and Wall-E etc.)
Starring: Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Bryan Cranston, Mark Strong, James Purefoy, and Daryl Sabara
Rated: PG-13 (for the same reason as the Lord of the Rings movies- those creatures’ blood ain’t red)
* * * * *
Reports say that the budget for John Carter came in at $250 million. That’s gotta be record-breaking. Luckily, it’s money well spent, because John Carter is a fun, action-packed, mostly coherent, visual treat.
Also, heads-up: critics tend to really dislike this type of movie. So take what you hear or read with a grain of salt. This is the movie you want it to be and you’re going to have a great time.
The film opens with some scenes of magnificent back story, where we see that Mars is indeed inhabited. In fact, humans live there, as do some outstanding bipedal humanoid-types that are giant and have four arms. These are Tharks. They are the primary inhabitants of Mars, but the humans (who have blue blood) have become the dominant species. The humans have divided into two factions and a bad guy by the name of Sab Than (West) has just received a weapon of extraordinary power from Matai Shang (Strong), a Thern. The Therns are mysterious beings, said to be messengers of the goddess, Issa.
So now Sab Than is laying waste and is going to take the final city of the other guys, who are the good guys, of course. He offers peace to the ruler of the good guys, Tardos Mors (Hinds), as long as Mors gives up his daughter to be the wife of Sab Than. The daughter, Dejah Thoris (Collins), is the Princess of Mars who is the focus of the first book by Burroughs. Dejah is a strong character and she refuses to marry Sab Than.
We move to Earth, where John Carter (Kitsch), a former accomplished soldier who fought for the Confederacy, returns from the war and finds his family slaughtered. He turns to gold mining while dodging Powell (Cranston), a Union colonel who wants Carter to join in a fight against the Apaches. Carter escapes Powell’s clutches and comes upon a cave of legend, where he is attacked by a Thern and is accidentally transported to Mars, or Barsoom as Martians call it.
Carter is taken captive by the Tharks, the leader of which is Tars Tarkas (Dafoe), a surprisingly wise and compassionate member of the brutal species. Carter bests a Thark in a fight and is adopted by the Tharks. All the while, Carter still has no idea where he is and is trying to adjust to being able to leap incredible heights and distances and to the fact that he’s immensely strong. Carter intervenes when Sab Than’s forces catch up with the fleeing Princess Dejah, saving Dejah’s life and making an enemy of Sab Than.
Dejah tries to convince Carter to join in her people’s fight against Sab Than, but he just wants to get home. However, Dejah helps Carter understand where he is and what’s going on and sparks fly between the two of them. What ensues is what you might expect: a race to get Carter home, keep Dejah alive, save the innocent people of Mars, find out the truth of the Therns, and stop Sab Than. Of course, we get to a point where Carter must face the choice between going home and staying on Mars.
All of this culminates in an arena battle with two awesome giant white apes and some pretty great action set pieces.
And before we finish the story summary, this story is discovered by young Edgar Burroughs, Carter’s nephew.
The story summary is long, so the critique will be shorter.
The plot is somewhat complex, but it’s laid out well, with enough moments taken to set each scene well in time and space. Two issues: I want to know why there are blue-blooded humans on Mars and I want to know the truth of why the Therns are involved. The truth is that each character is, surprisingly, nicely fleshed out. There are a lot of people in this movie, but each one is distinct because each has discernible motivations, except of course for the Therns, whose opaque motivations add to the story.
In short, the writing is actually darn good. If critics call the plot too complex, send them to the grave of Mr. Burroughs and tell them to pay attention next time. These are the people who adored Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so they can go eat toast. Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon did a very fine job with this screenplay.
Note: I loved Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Taylor Kitsch needs to go do some indie films to find a few more levels, but he carries the movie fine. He is at his furious best in the battle scenes. Please be sure to watch for the scene where he takes a stand against a horde of attacking Tharks in order to protect Dejah. It has emotional punch– another excellent sign of Stanton’s adept hand.
The visual effects of John Carter are worth every penny. Where Avatar’s N’avi were alienating and a little plastic, the Tharks are so very good. I love the anatomy displayed in the attention to detail. You will love the scenery, the seamless CGI, the great air ships, and the creatures.
All in all, a little acting help for Mr. Kitsch and a few plot issues are the only critiques of this big-budget pleaser. Yes, John Carter’s story doesn’t surprise and the pacing is slightly uneven, but it’s still a thrilling and visually delightful experience.
Content warnings: Revealing attire on Dejah, loads of alien blood spilled in many action scenes, slight language. (Please also note that in the books, people are buck naked, so appreciate what you get here.)
Writing: 4.5 Acting: 4 Overall: 4.5
You think I’m blowing smoke don’t you? I’m not, but you can see that many critics really disagree by going to Rotten Tomatoes. You know what else? GeekDad on Wired.com agrees with me too. Check out their review.
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