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JOHN CARTER Movie Review

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Published on Mar 8, 2012

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"John Carter" begins by telling us we really don't know Mars. Perhaps defensively, the filmmakers are inviting us to open our minds about the red planet, the film's setting. Throw out everything you know about Mars and it will be okay, at least for the most part.

For starters, Mars is called Barsoom and is populated by warring inhabitants, deadly creatures, and manipulative spiritual leaders. This is the atmosphere that the earthling John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has come to face.

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic, "A Princess of Mars," the first novel in his Barsoom series, "John Carter" is a big-budget extravaganza ($250 million and counting) that is intriguingly entertaining and wantonly captivating.

The entertaining aspect of the movie comes from the skilled hands of Andrew Stanton. The writer/director who gave us some of the best animated films in cinema history such as Disney/Pixar's "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E" makes his live-action debut with "John Carter." It's a terrifying proposition considering the movie's hefty budget.

Burroughs is turned into one of the characters in the film. Played by Daryl Sabara, Burroughs, known as Ned in the movie, receives a letter from the mysterious John Carter. He summons the young lad to his mansion in order to tell his wild adventures on the planet Mars.

Told in a series of flashbacks, the story begins in the Arizona Territories in 1868. John is a war-weary former cavalryman who now spends his time looking for his cave o'gold. But Captain Powell (the underused Bryan Cranston) keeps on nagging him to join his crusade to fight the Apaches.

One day, John stumbles upon what he thinks is the cave o'gold that he's been looking for. But inside is a mysterious force that transports him from a remote cave to the red planet. There, John discovers the change in gravity gives him extraordinary abilities. Suddenly, John finds he's a superhero to some and an enemy to many.

Here's what you need to know to enjoy the film. In Mars, there are two fighting "Red Men" races namely the warlike Zodangans and the sophisticated Heliumites. The other inhabitants are the tribe-like, primitive "Green Men" known as the Tharks, and the mysterious, advanced Therns.

John falls in love with the Helium Princess of Mars named Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who is forced to marry Sab Than (Dominic West), the Jeddak (that means king) of Zodanga, in order to save her nation. Now, John must team up with the multi-limbed Tharks in order to fight the Therns and save his Princess.

Did you get all that?

Kitsch is likeable enough as John Carter but you will not care for his love story with the Princess. There's not enough character development that it's almost a miracle that you even care for the hero. When flashbacks are overused to explain a character, then you know the narrative is in trouble.

But the beauty of "John Carter" is that the flashbacks actually give weight to the arc of the main character. Once he's in full battle-mode, his motivations are explained by his past experiences.




I also enjoyed the addition of Mark Strong, the current go-to-actor for villain roles in Hollywood, as Matai Shang, the mysterious leader of the Therns. His character is also given its necessary arc near the end.




The humor of the movie is also quite admirable. If you giggled watching Han Solo's quips in the "Star Wars" films, then you will get "John Carter's" absurdity. Indeed, the movie is part "Avatar," part "Star Wars," with a dash of "Cowboys & Aliens" thrown in for good measure.

But at its heart, "John Carter" is closer to "Flash Gordon" where old meets new. The most current technology in filmmaking is mixed with good, old-fashioned storytelling where archaic sci-fi tropes are blended in with modern beliefs.




The 3D look of the movie is also admirable. But the film's Achilles heel is its uneven tone. Bouts of eye-popping action with bouts of ho-hum drama do not equate for great cinema. You will feel every second of its 132-minute running time.

But somehow, "John Carter" entertains us miraculously. Back on Jasoom, that's Earth for the uninitiated, George Lucas must be very jealous. The film achieves in one single stroke what he tried with his last three "Star Wars" movies and that is to produce a visually captivating film that has enough plot to keep the story moving forward.

"John Carter" is not a great sci-fi movie but it's a good popcorn flick that its target audience will enjoy. The film is also an homage to the character of John Carter which is celebrating its 100th year, on Earth, of course.

RATING: "JOHN CARTER" GETS 3 KISSES

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