Review: John Carter (PG) / Director: Andrew Stanton / Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews / Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong / Release date: March 9th
Civil unrest on both Earth and Mars are cleverly contrasted and conceived in this imagining of Edgar R Burroughs' classic science fiction novel, The Princess of Mars, which was originally published in 1917. Director Andrew Stanton and his team of writers have adapted the original source material with both passion and respect. The intricate detailing of Barsoom (Mars), its inhabitants, the costume and technology envisioned by Edgar R Borroughs is magnificent. The vast landscapes and set pieces that have been designed with considerable thought draw you into the world of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and his battle to help Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) in her quest to save the kingdom of Helium.
We are introduced to John Carter in his civil war surroundings in Virginia, as he tries to escape from the law. From the start there is a good sense of fun that continues throughout the film with some witty moments full of well-timed physical comedy such as Carter attempting to flee from some confederate soldiers who have taken him captive. An accidental encounter with a mysterious man and amulet marks the beginning of Carter’s voyage as he is teleported to Barsoom. Taylor Kitsch is well cast as the leading man, bringing a charming quality to the role in the quieter moments of the film and ramping it up for the action scenes.
The film builds Carter’s character arc and his newly forming relationship with Dejah Thoris brilliantly and without skimping on extravagant fight scenes. The bonding moments between the human and red Martian play out well with a romantic storyline full of theatrical drama. This princess is full of moxy and intellect as she aptly battles in well-choreographed sword fights and outsmarts her male counterparts with her inventions. Carter’s other main companions are Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe), a tusked, four armed green Thark who is full of compassion, and Woola, a canine like creature crammed with a sense of loyalty that makes his little legs race at supersonic speed to fiercely protect our hero.
There are also clashes in religion as a trio of cultures attempt to exist on one planet. The Tharks, who have inhabited the planet for the longest, are stooped in ancient tradition and form a great empire that is struggling to survive against the more modern Zodanga and Helium who place great value on science. Stanton approached the subject of dwindling planetary resources in his last film WALL-E, and in using the backdrop of Mars, with some great digital tweaking of the location setting of Utah’s arid landscape, makes an impressive visual statement. He successfully weaves these important issues into this multi-layered thematically relevant fantasy.
Carter has thankfully been placed in Stanton’s capable hands, as a fan of the novels this is not just another moneymaker and could be the start of a promising franchise. The characters are introduced with some spot on storytelling and the worlds have been created with state of the art special effects that give the film a crisp look. The foundations have been laid for spectacular sci-fi for a new generation and it is extremely exciting. A plot that combines fantasy, political unrest and the origin story of a hero who has to face his personal demons makes for exhilarating viewing. This film is firing on all cylinders and is full of the imagination and intelligence necessary to make solid sci-fi.
Expected rating: 7 out of 10