John Carter (Of Mars) – 2012

Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Lynn Collins, Bryan Cranston, Daryl Sabara, Thomas Hayden Church
Written by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon based on A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

It’s hard to reconcile what kind of movie qualifies as a success these days, and what can be considered a failure.  John Carter recouped all the money they spent on it and then some.  Not much, but some.  It is considered a bust.  Maybe it was the delays, maybe it was the title change from John Carter of Mars, but somehow the eyes of the media got wind that there may be trouble and seemed to have allowed that perception be the reality.

To be sure, this is by no means a perfect movie.  It lags in the beginning due to a complex storyline.  It has Mark Strong as a bad guy.  That’s never a good sign.  Following the film through to the end brings a wish to see what happens with the story beyond the credits, and that is definitely a good sign.

It starts out with John Carter as a man of means who presumably passes away, leaving his fortune to a man he called “Ned” but we know as author Edgar Rice Burroughs,  credited with penning the original tale A Princess of Mars, 100 years ago.  Burroughs is given a strange set of instructions and told to read a recounting of events, which is where the bulk of the story begins in earnest.

From here we find Carter (Kitsch) 10 years earlier, an apparent crazed miner and veteran of the civil war.  Through a series of events too busy to describe here, he ends up unwittingly transported to Mars, whereupon he discovers that he has astounding strength and jumping ability.  We know that this is due to changes in the gravity between Earth and the Red Planet, but since Carter has no idea he’s left his planet, we get to see him discover this the hard way.

Crossing paths with the Tharks, who while being green Martians, come across more like noble Native Americans.  He hits it off with their leader, Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) and has

This is a Thark…or four.

worse luck with the second banana, Tal Hajus (Hayden Church).  This allows the introduction of two cities of humanoids, Helium (the good) and Zodanga (the other) at war with each other since, well, forever.

Helium is lead by King Tardos Mors (Hinds) his first lieutenant Kantos Kan (Purefoy) and Mors daughter Dejah Thoris (Collins), the Princess of Mars.  The casting for this town was probably most disconcerting for the fact that Hinds and Purefoy, so unforgettable in the HBO series, Rome, are pale imitations of those characters, whether by fault of the story or not.  Casting any or both of the two with someone else would have probably benefited the story.  Collins did not work as well for me either.  I kept thinking of the Wolverine movie whenever I saw her…that and coffee commercials.

It works well enough, though, and Kitsch provides enough goofball heroism to keep his character from going stale.  The special effects are incredibly pristine, without showing off.  This is exactly what one would expect from the creator and director of many classic Pixar films from Toy Story, to Finding Nemo to Wall-E.  John Carter presents epic confrontations laced with believable bits of humor, and fight scenes somewhat graphic without being excessively so.  Adding to this humor is the expertly conceived and executed dog like creature, named Woola, who is simultaneously affectionate, lazy and faster than just about anything else.

The action was a bit too intense for my 5-year-old, so we kept her from going too far into it. My 9-year-old and fellow reviewer Em really enjoyed it, though.  John Carter was made to be enjoyed by everyone who likes adventure, and, for the most part, it succeeds, in spite of the stench applied to it from outside influences.

This film should be considered a success.  It may not get a sequel, but I would see it if it were.  At the least, the film will be enjoyable on Sunday afternoons for years to come.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Em’s review:

The kids will get a kick out of the horrifying monsters.

I liked when the two white monsters got killed.  The little puppy was kind of creepy even though he was fast.  The funniest part of the movie is when the dog kept chasing John everywhere even though he was trying to jump away.  The creepiest part of the movie is when John Carter would have blue blood on him after fighting things.  My favorite part of the movie is when John and the Princess of Mars get married.

(**** out of *****)

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