John Carter review
I've been hyped for Disney's John Carter for since I saw the very first trailer for it. Marking 100 years since the character of John Carter made his first appearance in Edgar Rice Burrough's 11-volume Barsoom series of novels, John Carter tells first novel in that series, A Princess of Mars. It is directed by Andrew Stanton, whose previous work includes Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Like I said, I've had high hopes for this movie since it was first announced. It's based on a series of books that's inspired every sci-fi epic that we love. So, does John Carter have the chops to stand among the hit movies that it inspired? Thankfully, I can say yes.
John Carter is a charming movie. I would use other adjectives, but that's the one that keeps coming to mind. I spent 50 percent of the movie with a smile on my face, which probably looked creepy to anyone that might have glanced my way. John Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Battleship), is a former Confederate Captain who experienced side effects of war that hit close to home — specifically his family. He is a man that has no allegiances and is driven only by his pursuit of gold. That is, until he kills an alien in a cave on Earth and awakes to find himself transported to the planet of Barsoom (Mars).
There, he finds himself in the middle of a Civil War that is destroying the planet, but also has ramifications for his home planet. Every side wants to use him as a weapon to turn the war in their favor, including the lovely Princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). She is set to bed wed to the opposing faction's leader, Sab Than. John Carter rediscovers love, and most importantly, his humanity, on his quest to return to Earth. The story is told through the John Carter's diary, being read by his nephew, Edward Burroughs (see what happened there?), as his uncle passed away and left everything in his name, provided he read the journal alone and immediately.
I must say, the wealth of talent in this cast is what drives the movie. Kitsch does a wonderful job bringing John Carter to life. Carter actually feels a bit like George Lucas' characters Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Carter is a southern gentleman from Virginia, who has a sort of ruggedness about him — especially in the way he figures stuff out and accomplishes the tasks ahead of him. Sure, he'll be a bit goofy/clumsy along the way, but he gets the job done in spectacular fashion when all is said and done. Some of the funniest parts of the movie happens when Carter is discovering his newfound strengths upon his arrival to the planet Barsoom.
The rest of the cast, be it live-action or CGI, are equally impressive. Willem Dafoe voices the alien leader Tars Tarkas, and kinda blew my mind. The emotion he can convey through voice alone shows the kind of actor he is. Even the kid from Spy Kids (Daryl Sabara) is good in his limited screen time as Edgar Burroughs.
Even though Willem Dafoe brings the alien Tars Tarkas to life, the CGI doesn't live up to the quality of his voice work. Don't get me wrong, John Carter has its moments of visual brilliance. And the quality of the visuals is fitting for the tone of the movie that Disney set out to make. It's exactly what I would expect from a Pixar to live action director, and that's nothing to scoff at. However, it doesn't necessarily look real. Real actors and CGI characters blend to create a nice picture, but don't expect ultra-realism from the alien species. That being said, the planet of Barsoom is wonderfully created by the John Carter crew, making the planet and its architecture feel unique.
The score is also fitting. While it's not at Star Wars or Lord of the Rings epicness level, it holds its own and helps conjure up the emotions that a particular scene is looking for. Composer Michael Giacchino, who got his start scoring video games like Call of Duty before winning an Academy Award for his score to the Pixar film Up, creates a soundtrack that's worth of a listen on its own.
The only real problem I had with the movie is some pacing issues in the first 20 minutes of the film. It jumps around a lot, with what feels like little direction in the story. It was even hard to figure out which characters were good or bad. Past the 20 minute or so mark, the movie really comes into its own. Now that I know what to expect out of the story, I would believe I'd enjoy the beginning of the movie a lot more.
It's very easy to see how other novels and movies were inspired from John Carter, or A Princess of Mars. It has Star Wars-like battles and relationships, and an Avatar-like planetary struggle; the problem is that we've already seen a lot of these elements done in other movies, even if this is the story that inspired them. John Carter does a lot of things really well, but individual elements have been done better in other movies.
Regardless, I loved John Carter. It's not without its flaws, but they're easy to overlook due to the charming world, story, and characters, and the superb cast. The action is fun, and the movie is sure to captivate audiences enough to warrant a sequel. One last little comment — how the whole story comes together in the end is done in the best way I could have hoped for. Fans of the Barsoom series that were upset the movie didn't keep “of Mars” in the title will be happy to see that before the credits roll, the title John Carter appears on screen, and then of Mars fades in. It's perfect, considering the ending shows his transformation of the broken John Carter from Earth to the John Carter that rediscovers his humanity and now truly identifies with Mars.
“Write a book or something...” You'll get that after you see the movie.