John Carter is a sweeping sci-fi adventure story filled that in it’s IMAX 3D edition is a stunning visual experience that’s combined with lots of action and thrills. It is interesting to me that Director Andrew Stanton, like his Pixar pal Brad Bird, chose a big screen, big budget action adventure as their first film, not some domestic comedy. Except John Carter‘s budget is twice that of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and has no stars in sight (Willem Dafoe is a CG character Tars Tarkas.)
Although Taylor Kitch (John Carter) and Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris) have to do all the heavy lifting, they get support from the four-armed, green Tharks who are the best ever CG characters every to appear on film and with actors like Thomas Hayden-Chruch, Dafoe, and Samantha Morton inhabiting them why not? The live action actors including everybody’s favorite baddie Mark Strong (Matai Shang) and one of my favorite British character actors Ciarán Hinds (Tardos Mors) and there’s plenty of quality actors in supporting roles. Junie (Daryl Sabara) from the original Spy Kids is Edgar Rice Burroughs who appears in a small but important role. And don’t miss Malcolm in the Middle’s dad (Bryan Cranston) in the small but impressive role of Colonel Powell.
John Carter has everything that Cowboys & Aliens didn’t have. It’s sweeping in its vision and populated with real or CG characters that you care about. On top of that, the Western elements are much better done than in Favreau’s film and in an interesting bit of casting John Favreau appears as the voice of one of those self-same four-armed green Tharks.
The plot is anything but simple and involves John Carter being transported from the Frontier West to Mars aka Barsoom, which is deftly handled through an introduction narrated by Willem Dafoe. Once on Mars he rescues a damsel in distress, gets chased by some weird animals and bad guys—shape shifters –no less and fights the good fight as any chivalrous Confederate cavalry office must. All of which ends with a finale that leaves room for a sequel and I hope there is one.
There is no doubt that the plot, especially the details can occasionally be vague but for those who say you have to be familiar to get the source material—fuggedabouit. My wife whose only connection with Edgar Rice Burroughs is that her name is the same as Burroughs’ grandmother loved the movie because she cared about the characters in what is a mult-layered story that includes flashbacks to Carter’s wife and child that—and I ain’t kidding—brought tears to my eyes as the film shows quick cuts between Carter on Mars and Carter or Earth. You don’t expect to see stuff like this is a pulp-fantasy adventure but it’s all up there on the screen with big kudos to Stanton and co-writers Mark Andres and Michael Chabon. Yes that Michael Chabon.
What is interesting about the film is that the stroy keeps you guessing and both the action and the visual grandeur—the wedding scene is off-the-charts—picks up as the movie heads toward a climax (both of them) and is helped immeasurably by Michael Giacchino’s memorable score. I said it when mentioning his score for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol—Giacchino is hand-down the finest young composer working in film these days.
The 3D effects are clever but not engaging (but see it in 3D anyway) and director Staton’s vision is impressive making watching John Carter a great time at the movies. I give it four and one-quarter kernels out of five. Combining the feel of Star Trek—the opening is very Wrath of Khan— Star Wars and bits and pieces of Indiana Jones, but John Carter is it’s own film and a must see movie for science fiction fans.