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John Carter (12A) Reviewed

Rachel Winterbottom enjoys a Martian romp with a CGI dog....so to speak

Written by . Published on March 12th 2012.


John Carter (12A) Reviewed

ADAPTED from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp fiction title A Princess of Mars (1912), Disney has gone for what it must presume to be the more muscular, mass audience-friendly option of naming the film after its all-action hero.

Thankfully, for the most part, John Carter concentrates its efforts on entertaining its audience, which it succeeds in doing throughout the majority of its bum-numbing 132 minutes. 

In 19th century Virginia, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is an ex-Confederate captain turned world explorer. The army wants him back, but a grieving Carter refuses to fight and escapes recruitment only to end up on Mars (i.e. Barsoom) in the middle of a war between the planet’s various factions.

Mars is dying and can only be saved if its inhabitants work together instead of trying to destroy each other. Unfortunately there are some nefarious shape shifting beings who have dire plans for the future of the planet, which Carter’s timely arrival threatens to disrupt.

Carter is captured by Tharks (giant, quadruple armed green Martians) and forced to join the tribe by leader Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe), who is curious about his ability to jump extremely high. On Mars, Carter finds he has increased strength and agility, which makes him the ideal fighter despite his protests.

Meanwhile, the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), is told by her father that she must marry the leader of Zodanga, Sab Than (Domenic West), in order to avert war.

However, eager to explore her other options, Dejah escapes into Carter’s well-toned arms. Initially reluctant to fight for her cause, Carter soon comes around when the beautiful Martian promises to help him get home.

Massive Martians attack Man with a chainMassive Martians attack Man with a chain

This is a live action first for director Andrew Stanton, who is a Pixar alumni (Toy Story 3, WALL-E), so he has a lot riding on his cast of mostly unknowns. Casting more established thesps in the motion capture suits has worked a treat. Defoe in particular adds depth and humanity to his Thark giant.

Kitsch brings his husky voiced charm to the role of Carter, which otherwise would have been your bog standard hero role. While Collins is not quite a match for the Ripleys and Leias of the science fiction universe, she is still stunning and fiery as the tattooed, red skinned princess who can take care of herself. The couple obviously enjoy sparking off each other and despite some hammy dialogue, the pair actually have chemistry between them.

In a production on this epic scale there are bound to be some shortcomings. The film is beset with a slew of one dimensional villains. The characters manage to survive without much in the way of sustenance or clothing.

The elaborate framing device adds unnecessary length. John Carter flags on the occasional time it takes itself too seriously, which doesn’t mesh well in a film that derives much of its humour from a CGI alien dog (a feat in itself).

No Not That OneNo Not That OneThe 3D effects are visually arresting but mostly redundant in a film that is bursting with state-of-the-art, genuinely stunning CGI and motion capture technology. The design of the Martian cities and technologies is breathtakingly beautiful against the backdrop of the dusty desert landscape, and doesn’t need to be three dimensional to be appreciated.

Thankfully, for the most part, John Carter concentrates its efforts on entertaining its audience, which it succeeds in doing throughout the majority of its bum-numbing 132 minutes. Despite being distributed by Disney, the film still delivers the necessary (albeit 12A) thrills.

The film doesn’t disappoint when Carter finally lets loose with his abilities in one of the film’s battle scenes, which are refreshingly few for a blockbuster. Although, the brutality of the Thark arena, when it finally happens, isn’t as bloodthirsty as the build up suggested. Gladiator this ain’t. Still, John Carter is great fun, full of humour, and it’s the best Mars romp since Arnie’s Total Recall.

Rating: 7/10

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