John Carter

John Carter

****

Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

John Carter’s journey to the big screen has been almost as epic as the adventures of its eponymous central character. It is 82 years since MGM’s Bob Clampett first approached Edgar Rice Burroughs with an idea for a cartoon serial of A Princess Of Mars, the first in ERB’s 11-part Barsoom series. Since then, a rote of high-profile directors including John McTiernan and Robert Rodriguez have been linked with the project until it finally stuck with Oscar-winning Pixar genius Andrew Stanton, who has co-written and directed this fantasy adventure with the same playful adroitness that characterises his animated work.

Playing John Carter, a role once lined up for Tom Cruise, is Taylor Kitsch, rising Canadian star who will be drawling all over our screens again next month in sci-fi thriller, Battleship. Kitsch has bulked up to rock the loincloth look but steered clear of cartoon beefiness to keep the realism of a character that, when action begins on Earth, is a ragged civil war veteran. As fans of the book will know, it isn’t long before John Carter is abruptly transported to Mars (Barsoom), a nasty shock by anyone’s measure. A small pay-off for the planet transplant is superior strength and jumping skills. Michael Giacchino scores a delightful sequence where new abilities are painfully, if balletically, tested with cheeky classical number, ‘The Gravity of the Situation’.

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Meanwhile, in parallel narratives, beautiful Martian princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is aghast at her father’s idea that she marry unmitigating rogue, Sab Than (Dominic West), to save her city of Helium from his warlike advances.

Action moves at a pleasing zip with an early fight scene setting the tone with spectacle but no wall-of-noise aggression. Mars/Barsoom is a desert city in the Phantom Menace mould, inhabited by visual treats of Martians, some of which display touching emotional intelligence, some of which are as terrifying as they are ridiculous.

It’s not long before Carter and the Princess get tangled up in each other’s causes. He wants to get home. She wants to save Helium. Collins is all femininity and regal toughness. Kitsch is tersely playful and instinctively chivalrous. The chemistry is persuasive but unfortunately tender moments have a tendency to be interrupted by war. Their deferred relationship provides a satisfying spine to a narrative filled with twists and turns.

The plot-heavy narrative is dexterously handled and enriched by visual depth – blue light, fire and extreme desert-scapes are everywhere, the 3D even seems to serve a purpose, although you have to wait for the breath-taking night-flights for proof. Masterfully edited, amusingly scripted, with support roles for Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Mark Strong (playing yet another baddie), John Carter is a fast-paced, good-humoured, fantasy epic about bravery, love and belonging.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2012
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Mysteriously transported to Mars, a 19th century cavalryman is caught up in an alien conflict in this adaptation of the classic pulp series.
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Stuart Crawford **

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writer: Andrew Stanton and Mark Andrews, based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds

Year: 2012

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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