Disney‘s John Carter is the adaptation and re-imagining of the 1917 novel A Princess of Mars, penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
There has been a lot of pressure on John Carter to perform, which is mostly thanks to its enormous $275 million dollar budget. While I can’t see it making much profit, or even breaking even, the film is not as bad as most critics would have you believe. Honestly, the trailers didn’t do the film justice and I urge you not to base your decision on whether to see it or not on the trailers alone.
On top of the financial considerations attached to a film of this magnitude, taking a book like this and creating an adaptation that not only meets Disney standards but does justice to the material that Burroughs’ aficionados stand behind is a difficult process. And though many people doubted them, Disney delivered a script that translated onto the big screen in a monumental way.
Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War vet and a reluctant hero. After losing everything in the war for his country, he is on the hunt for the elusive spider cave of gold that he has heard whispers of over the years and is convinced exists. When we first meet him he has lost touch with reality, completely dedicating his wayward life to finding the cave without regard for his personal well-being.
Carter is an interesting character all around. He is a man lost in his misery that obviously has a strong moral compass which shines throughout the film. No matter what situation he finds himself in, he always shows his heroic traits and tips the scales between good and evil.
The story is told mostly through flashbacks after John Carter suddenly takes ill and dies and his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs, receives Carter’s private journal as part of his estate. The journal documents events that took place 13 years ago where Carter was taken from Earth to Mars, where he found himself in the middle of a deadly battle for control of the planet.
Up-and-comer Taylor Kitsch takes the lead role and as our titular hero, he doesn’t disappoint. John Carter is the first of three action-heavy roles that Kitsch will be taking on this year. Although he had a small part in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that went off without a hitch, the sizeable increase in responsibility here is so substantial that the the two films aren’t even comparable.
His role as Carter is a strong estimate as to how he will do in his next two films, Battleship and Savages. As John Carter, Kitsch comes off as confident, likeable, convincing and a bonafide leading man. Though the film doesn’t rest entirely on his performance, it does rely heavily on it and I don’t think anyone can fault the young actor if Disney fails to turn a profit.
As for the supporting actors, and there are quite a few of them, they all do adequate jobs with the material they have. The film is mostly Kitsch’s though and a lot of the supporting characters feel a bit under-written. You’ll find a lot of familiar faces here (Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong) but no one is really given a whole lot to work with.
Director Andrew Stanton is best known for the animated hits Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Disney took a risk trusting such a complex tale to someone that until this point, stood behind masterful animated features. Lucky for them, the move from animation to live action seemed to be an easy one for the director.
Stanton presents an extravagant vision on screen that looks wonderful in 3D. He takes what could have been a confusing story and presents it in a manner that is well thought out and pretty easy to follow. Admittedly, some of the scenes felt a bit too long and even unnecessary but on the whole, the film’s 2 hour runtime never felt too long. Stanton also mixes the human characters and the more idealistic alien ones quite well, creating an immersive fantasy environment that brought a very retro-Hollywood escapist element to the film.
Furthermore, sci-fi fans will notice a very Star Wars-esque feel at points, which isn’t surprising since George Lucas was influenced by Burroughs. The modern instruments of war being used in a society that appears otherwise very primitive is something that really brings that Star Wars feel to the screen and fans of Lucas’ epic series will likely find a lot to like here.
Watching an adventure of this magnitude on the big screen was a ton of fun. I’m not going to say that John Carter is perfect, because it’s not. There are quite a few missed opportunities here but it does bring across that sense of wonder filmmaking quite well and it’ll have you sitting in amazement pretty frequently.
It also takes a number of sci-fi elements which have been around forever and makes them feel fresh again, which is very welcome. John Carter is simply a blast to watch, the excellent CGI makes for some very well constructed battle scenes and some dazzling effects coupled with the 3D turn this into a great ride!
If you’re willing to suspend your belief for a few hours, I think you’ll walk away from this one pleasantly surprised.