Bounding into theaters on a wave of hype, Andrew Stanton’s “John Carter” is a rousing adventure tale the likes of which can only come from old-school, sci-fi pulps.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a post-Civil War era confederate cavalryman from Virginia who’s grown tired of war. But when he manages to accidentally transport to Mars – or “barsoom,” as the natives call it – he becomes caught up in an entirely new war.
Almost immediately after arriving on Mars, Carter is taken in by the nomadic green aliens known as the Tharks, led by Tars Tarkus (Willem Dafoe). While hiding out with the Tharks, he finds out about the two warring human cities on Mars, Helium and Zodanga.
He becomes caught up in their war after he saves princess Dejah Thoris of Helium (Lynn Collins). The war weary soldier must face down Tharks, Zodangan warriors, giant white apes and ancient aliens known as the Thern in order to save Mars and return home.
For anyone who thinks that this sounds eerily similar to “Avatar” or other such movies, there’s a reason for that. The original stories that “John Carter” is based on were written almost 100 years ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and they’ve helped inspire science fiction ever since.
In true blockbuster fashion, “John Carter” doesn’t offer up a great deal when it comes to truly good dramatic acting, but with all the explosions and fights and special effects, do you really need Oscar-winning performances? That’s not to say that none of the actors do a good job, in fact, most of them do quite well.
Kitsch plays the hero role well, managing to bring some depth to Carter. Mark Strong is perfect as the villainous shape-shifting Thern Matai Shang. Collins brings the fiery princess to life in every scene, whether she’s fighting alongside Carter or getting excited about ancient technology.
The special effects also deserve a little attention. This isn’t the Mars we know it to be – it’s Barsoom, a living planet with vibrant scenery and very real inhabitants. Most of the inhabitants of Barsoom look human enough, but the Tharks help remind us that we aren’t on Earth anymore. Standing 10 feet tall with four arms, green skin and tusks, the Tharks are an imposing presence on the screen. The combat scenes are thrilling and brutal, especially in scenes where Carter gets to show off the extreme strength and jumping ability that Barsoom’s low gravity grants him.
Despite its poor box office showing, “John Carter” is worth a view. If you’re looking for a great adventure flick to watch over spring break, look no further.
4 out of 5