Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe
JOHN Carter (Kitsch) has had a rough trot. Shadowed by personal tragedy the Civil War veteran ekes out his existence chasing gold claim after gold claim and avoiding anything remotely resembling responsibility. He is a soldier who has lost the will to fight and what he was fighting for with words such as duty and honour holding very little meaning.
Taking shelter in a mysterious cave after a run in with some Native-American Indians he awakes to find himself on a strange new world known as Barsoom, what we call Mars. Captured by a local tribe of 12-foot aliens known as Tharks, they find him quite the novelty due to his newfound superhuman abilities attributed to Barsoom’s lower gravity in comparison to Earth. In spectacular fashion Carter crosses paths with a stunning Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Collins) on the run from her Zodangan betrothed. It seems that Carter has escaped one civil war only to land smack bang in the middle of another.
Sab Than (West) leads his people, the Zodangan, in battle overwhelming the Helium forces with advanced weaponry supplied by the calculating Matai Shang (Strong), who is pulling the strings of this invasion behind the scenes, but to what end? What does he and his shadowy race, the Therns, have in store for the red planet and how can Carter overcome his own demons to play a pivotal role in Mars’ liberation, save the princess and save the world.
Andrew Stanton, known for writing and directing animated Pixar features such as A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, impressively tackles both classic storytelling and his first Hollywood live-action blockbuster with great success in John Carter. Avoiding missteps seen in Michael Bay’s Transformers he lets the story and characters take centre stage
By pulling back to frame each scene with magnificent and often subtle special effects the audience misses none of the action or spectacle and becomes fully immersed in this beautifully created world. Exhibiting some of the most flawless CG this side of Avatar, John Carter is bursting with realistically emoting aliens, astounding landscapes and jaw-dropping vessel designs. Each action set piece is a standout “wow” moment that will leave you grinning like a teenager and shaking your head in disbelief
Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) brings great pain and sensitivity to Carter and has the physicality to make the amazing feats of strength and agility his character performs seem almost nonchalant. Every inch a princess exuding charm and grace, Lynn Collins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) provides the perfect counterpart to Carter, is drop dead gorgeous with a steely glint in her eyes and it is easy to see why he falls for her. Mark Strong and Dominic West revel in their villainous roles in a more restrained manner, leaving the ham at the door, with Mark Strong’s performance as the almost disinterested Matai Shang in particular all the more powerful for it
The heart and soul of the film come from its less human characters, namely Thark chieftain Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) and his daughter Sola (Morton). There’s a believable balance of strength and honour to Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the tough but fair Tharkan leader, beautifully offset by the softness Samantha Morton brings to Sola. As Tars’ persecuted illegitimate daughter she accepts her place in the tribe with such poise and an overwhelming sense of sadness you can’t help but feel for her.
John Carter is one hell of a rollercoaster ride with all the elements you’d expect from a popcorn Hollywood blockbuster and a whole lot more. It will floor you with its fantastic special effects, impress you with rock solid cast performances and tug at your emotions with a surprising amount of heart.
John Carter is in cinemas 8 March, 2012.
Review: Dave Kozicki