In “John Carter,” Mars is not a desolate wasteland as we think, but full of life. With a war raging on for centuries between two battling humanoid clans — the Heliumites and the Zodangans — the planet is slowly being destroyed by the Zodangans and their resource-draining moving city known as “the predator city.” In addition, there is a third race, the indigenous Tharks, who are green and 9 feet tall with four arms. These are the most alien-like inhabitants of this planet; tough and skilled warriors, they prefer not to take sides and let the Heliumites and Zodangans destroy each other. When mysterious beings appear to the leader of the Zodangans, Sab Than (Dominic West), and offer him the ultimate weapon of destruction, the war seems to be all but won. This leaves the leader of the Heliumites, Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds) in a desperate position, even willing to give his daughter Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) up for marriage to his nemesis in order to save his people.
Back on Earth we meet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), captain of the Virginian cavalry, who decides fighting a war of others isn’t what he wants to do anymore. After suffering Earth-shattering losses in his own private life, he has abandoned the war for treasure hunting in the hills. He finds a cave where he encounters a mysterious being and is transported to the deserted wastelands of Mars. His first encounter with the natives is with Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), leader of the green skinned Tharks. John is seen as a pet and soon befriends an outcast named Sola (Samantha Morton).
When the war between Zodanga and Helium brings itself to the Tharks’ front door, John sees the fight as unfair and steps in to help. He discovers that he has immense strength, agility and the capability to jump incredible distance on this new planet. In his attempt to save Princess Dejah, he quickly learns that she is more than capable of defending herself. John is mesmerized by Dejah’s beauty — and Dejah sees John as a way to gain the upper hand in the war — but John has had enough of battles on Earth and isn’t eager to join another one.
At the middle of these conflicts are godly beings known as the Therns. Believed to be just legends, the Therns are powerful and said to be the enforcers of the deity Goddess worshiped by all mortals on Barsoom — what the natives call Mars — and their immense powers help them to blend in and sway the balances of power on the planet. The leader of the Therns is Matai Shang, who has plans for this planet and all of its inhabitants. Learning of this is just the motivation John Carter needs to get involved and is soon in a race to uncover the secrets of the Thern, travel foreign landscapes, encounter monstrous beasts and fight supernatural beings in order to save Barsoom and save the people of this planet from an uncertain fate.
Director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”) brought a lifelong love of his to the big screen in Walt Disney’s “John Carter.” Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, this series of 11 novels have been converted to many mediums, including comic books in the 1970s, other novels and television programs. Seen as the basis for modern sci-fi, there are themes and aspects to this 100-year-old series that have inspired modern day film-makers and had extreme influences on the creation of the “Star Wars” franchise and even 2009’s “Avatar.” So when you are watching the movie, you may see many of these similarities and think “John Carter” is trying to rip-off some of these concepts when, in fact, it came first — it just took a very long time to finally see this world realized on the big screen.
Being director Andrew Stanton’s first live-action film, “John Carter” mixes enough visual effects with his background in animation that he seamlessly moves into this new element with ease. His appreciation and adoration for the source material makes him take delicate care to create the world as described in the books. He has taken certain liberties to make the transition from page to screen, but this is the case with most books that become movies. One of the major changes I liked was turning Princess Dejah from a damsel in distress into an intelligent and fierce woman; this makes the character more real and the love-story aspect of the film less contrived.
As for the star, Taylor Kitsch has proven himself as an actor in the hit series “Friday Night Lights.” Not only does he brood effectively, he also picks up the hero mantel and runs — and jumps — with it. The remaining cast and voice actors were all great in the film as well, adding to the blend of funny and serious characters that inhabit Mars.
Although this is an epic fantasy movie for the whole family, it doesn’t lose sight of its characters in an effort to boast some massive action scenes – and there are quite a few. Through the course of this two-hour-and-12-minute film, you get to know and love, hate, despise and care for the people you see onscreen and this makes you more invested in the film.
A big controversy surrounding the film was its massive budget — $250 million dollars — but after seeing the film, I can see how they used the money to create life-like Tharks, air warships, vicious white apes and massive war scenes that would have taken countless man hours to get looking as good as they do. Like every Disney film, you have to realize going in that certain adult aspects of the books would be toned down, but this is necessary to be able to have the entire family be able to see the movie. I do think that the 3D isn’t necessary to appreciate the beauty and wonder of discovering this new world, but I will say there are about three or four scenes in which the 3D element is used very well. The final battle and ending scenes are somewhat of a letdown after such a largely epic movie, but that’s probably because Disney is hoping to turn this into a franchise. The length of this film might be a problem for some younger viewers to stay tuned in to, but can easily be enjoyed as a fun and entertaining night at the movies by most.
“John Carter” leaps its way onto the big screen March 9 and will be available in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D. You can see the first 10 minutes of the movie HERE.
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