March 10, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Take sci-fi elements from Star Wars, the aliens from Avatar, and the style from Prince of Persia, mix them all together, and what do you get? Disney’s latest blockbuster, John Carter, which on the surface might seem like the world’s most expensive knockoff with a rumored $250 million budget, but is in fact a film adaptation based on a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels that date back to 1912 and helped influence legendary film creators George Lucas and James Cameron create the billion-dollar franchises we all know and love today.
While John Carter might be one hundred years late to the party he started due to various setbacks in development, director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo) has once again been able to find life on another planet and further expand his resume. As either a voice-actor, writer, producer, or director, Stanton has played a major role in almost all of Pixar’s greatest hits over the past fifteen years; John Carter marks his first journey into the world of live-action films, and he’s created a beautiful new film franchise that holds its own against other sci-fi juggernauts directed by industry vets.
The story of John Carter’s journey begins on Earth in 1857 during the American Civil War. As a former captain of the Confederate Army who no longer wants to fight and is searching for gold, Carter discovers an ancient secret in an Arizona cave that results in his instant transportation to Mars. After arriving on Mars, Carter learns that his strength and agility have greatly increased due to Mars’ decreased gravity, giving him superhero-like powers. Carter is then captured by an Avatar-looking species of aliens who find an interest in him after witnessing his gravity-defying jumping abilities. Shortly thereafter, due to a new love interest who turns out to be the Princess of Mars, Carter finds himself in the middle of another civil war between two similar human races that inhabit Mars.
If you’re simply looking for an enjoyable sci-fi flick with tons of action and an emotional tie-in and not trying to play scientist by critiquing what should and should not be possible, then John Carter‘s story will deliver on all levels. Carter’s journey is somewhat predictable due to so many other forms of media copying Burroughs’ ideas over the past one hundred years, yet, some surprise twists towards the end help the story stand out from being what seems like another generic sci-fi flick and leave a lasting impression that will have you wondering what’s next for the franchise.
Stanton’s vision of the dusty Martian home world is absolutely beautiful, and the special effects make for some thrilling action sequences that will never lose your interest. There are a couple areas that could have used a little extra time in the editing room, like a certain hovercraft scene, but the overall effects are amazing and on par with other recent CGI-heavy sci-fi hits like Avatar. However, unlike Avatar, the movie wasn’t shot in 3D, so the post-converted 3D effects are nothing spectacular, and saving your money and viewing John Carter in a clearer and brighter 2D experience is highly recommended.
Leading actor Taylor Kitsch, who moviegoers might recognize from the Friday Night Lights television series or as Gambit in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, nails his role as John Carter from start to finish. It’s no surprise that Hollywood is looking for Kitsch to become one of its next leading men with him also starring in Battleship this summer. Another Wolverine alum, actress Lynn Collins, also does a spectacular job as the Princess of Mars, that is, if you can manage to remember anything she says while getting lost in her beautifully-enhanced deep blue eyes.
Although Kitsch and Collins both create memorable characters through their terrific performances, veteran Willem Dafoe’s superb acting as the alien leader Tars Tarkas, combined with Stanton’s use of motion capture technology, helps bring another level of emotion to the film. Again, like Avatar, the CGI is done so well that you’ll instantly become immersed in the story being told and believe what you’re seeing on screen is real, despite how unreal the eight-foot-tall four-armed green alien being played by Dafoe on stilts might look.
A summer blockbuster in early March, John Carter manages to be another hit for Disney. While the film doesn’t outdo other big-budget sci-fi/fantasy franchises, John Carter‘s hundred-year-old story holds its own in modern times and makes for a thrilling action-packed experience. Taylor Kitsch’s transition to leading male and Andrew Stanton’s transition from animated films to live-action are both a huge success and hopefully we’ll see the two team up again for more John Carter films in the future. John Carter gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great).