Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Samantha Morton
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon
Based on the novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Running time 132 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
As a kid, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a right of passage. Along with Jack London, Mark Twain and Jules Verne, it seemed that every kid in the world read the stories of Tarzan and John Carter that Edgar penned all those years ago. The books fueled the imagination and got youth hooked on the printed word. Before the movie based on the Mars stories of ERB hit the silver screen, I went back and re-read some of those mythical tales.
I was surprised by how they did not hold-up from the backwash that was my pre-teen imagination. The first three books of the series are painful to slog through, with characters that are not as developed as I remembered and adventures that seemed to lack a lot of creative force. I couldn’t see how the source material would hold up with a modern film audience. Then again, the James Bond films and books are only a tangent of each other.
The movie John Carter basically follows the plot of The Princess of Mars, the first of the series with some scenes from later adventures thrown in. The story starts with young Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) having to take care of the estate of his uncle John Carter. The instructions to what Edgar must do are laid out in a book, the story that John Carter tells not only to his relative but to the audience.
John Carter is a Virginia cavalry man who is fed up with war and fighting. He is a skilled soldier who has had a tragedy in his life. All he wants to do is find a horde of gold in Indian country. He discovers a cave, a mysterious man with a magic amulet and our adventure shoots forward. The film (like the book) wastes little time going or explaining events. It just takes off and hopes the audience goes along for the ride.
Soon John Carter is transported to the red planet; a dying world where warring factions are fighting over what little is left of the world. He is captured by a group of Martians where he learns that this is a warrior world where only the strong survive. John also finds that due to the different gravity, he has the ability to do super jumps and can almost fly across the Martian sky.
There is an uneasy truce between warring human-like factions. A princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is promised to a warrior to keep the peace. The problem is that she does not want to marry him and does not trust that the marriage truce will do any good. She is a fiercely independent woman and wants more than to just be a pawn in a political game.
Soon John Carter and Dejah Thoris meet. She convinces John Carter to help her with her agenda. He just wants to get back to Earth and find his gold. The film becomes John Carter’s realization that there are some causes right enough to fight for. He must rally the troops in order to save a world that is not his own.
There is so much that is right with John Carter. It looks amazing. The visual effects seem right out of the book illustrations. Director Andrew Stanton captures the look and feel of the original novel without compromising the story. The ships fly across the screen in CGI majesty. The alien races are done with perfection. It is a film that could never have been made before the advent of computer technology. The effects geniuses at both Disney and Pixar should be proud of their work. This is an impressive feat and a step forward with the technology—a sure technical Oscar winner.
At the same time, there is so much that is wrong with John Carter. At times the film plays like a bad space soap opera. While one doesn’t need to have read the books to understand everything that is happening, it sure helps to know what the heck is going on with different characters. More than once it felt like one was watching a sequel to the 1980’s flick Flash Gordon than a new film. It becomes hokey in more than a few instances.
Lynn Collins is an actress who has been in some very successful films, just in non-memorable roles. She has played Wolverine’s girlfriend, Adam Sandler’s gal-pal in 50 First Dates and Keanu Reeves The Lake House love interest in a few of her roles. This should vault her to another level in Hollywood. She handles both the action scenes and the romantic moments with equal aplomb. While some of her lines seem silly, she still delivers them with conviction.
Taylor Kitsch looks the part of the hero. With his steely gaze and chiseled features he comes across as a classic action figure. In a film like this one it is easy to become lost in the world of effects but Taylor puts a human spin on this character. We believe both the world and the performances in that world.
John Carter is a good movie but not a great movie. There is so much going for it yet it lacks so much in the end. I will see it again for the visual experience, just not for the narrative experience.