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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

John Carter (3D) | Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong | Review

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John Carter

Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 novel 'A Princess of Mars' was the first in a series of classic novels that introduced the titular John Carter and his adventures on the planet Mars to readers. Supposedly, the books influenced future sci fi ventures such as Flash Gordon and filmmakers George Lucas  and James Cameron to name a few.  Now, a century after it was written, 'A Princess of Mars' has been adapted to the big screen by writers Andrew Stanton, Michael Chabon and Mark Andrews, as John Carter, a big budget ($250 million) sci fi adventure in 3D.

Model turned actor Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) stars as John Carter, a disillusioned Civil War captain from Virginia who is burdened by the tragic death of his wife and young child. On the run from the U.S. Army and Apaches, Carter winds up in a cave where he comes across an alien visitor and a gold medallion and is suddenly, mysteriously, transported to Mars (known as Barsoom to its inhabitants).  There Carter discovers he has no trouble breathing the air, has super human strength, and possesses the power to leap extraordinary heights in a single bound.  In no time he runs into a tribe of skinny, 10 foot tall,  green  skinned natives called Tharks with two sets of arms and a pair of facial tusks led by Tars Tarkas (strong voice work by Willem Dafoe). Think of the Tharks as the Native Americans caught in the sidelines of a civil war that mirrors the one being waged back on earth. And, instead of the North and South, the more powerful Martian inhabitants, the feuding Zodangans and Heliumites are violently battling it out.

Needless to say, Carter finds himself thrust in the middle of the conflict after encountering and falling for the bodacious Dejah Thoris (a muscular toned, Lynn Collins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) a Heliumite princess/scientist/warrior, whose father (a wasted, Ciaran Hinds given very little screen time) has forced her into marrying Zodangan leader Prince Sab Than (Dominic West) with hope that their wedding would create a truce and forge an end to the ongoing conflict.  Meanwhile, the one really pulling all the strings is the evil, manipulative, shapeshifting Thern leader, Matai Shang (Mark Strong).

Unlike director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) who made a successful jump from animated films to live action with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, for Andrew Stanton, who helmed the delightful, heartfelt Finding Nemo (2003) and 2008's WALL•E, the transfer into unfamiliar territory doesn't appear to be well suited to his skills.

That isn't to say the visuals aren't eye catching and attention grabbing including the convincing CGI created alien characters (with supporting voice over work by Samantha Morton, as the maternal Sola and Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus) and cool looking martian space crafts. I also got a kick out of Woola, a fat doglike creature with a huge mouth and playful personality that latches on to Carter and follows him everywhere.

However,  when it comes to the storyline and acting, John Carter falls way too short. Kitch (he should have changed his name)  fits the bill physically as a hunky, bear-chested hero with the initials of another savior.  But his acting is bland at best.  Although good looking and baring a resemblance to Johnny Depp (maybe it is the hair) he lacks the screen charisma and talent of the superstar.

I have to admit, I haven't read any of the books in the series, but I am sure they must have been easier to follow than this unfolding narrative.  Beyond the cheesy, laughable dialogue and incoherent action, this movie adaptation is hindered by a convoluted storyline that lacks any emotional hooks. Also, there is some mumbo jumbo about a Martian power source called “the ninth ray,” but it is never fully explained. What does jump out are scenes we've seen played out in dozens of other movies.  In other words, been there, seen that, which has been done better.

John Carter is obviously the introductory film in the franchise. I was very disappointed, and I can only hope the next installment will be more worthwhile than this sci fi fantasy mess.

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