By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, and Thomas Hayden Church
Contrary to what some people (mostly people from this site) might think, I do not go to movies looking to bash them. I, like the majority of movie goers, go to take a couple hours and have a good time. Going into John Carter, I did not feel like this was going to happen. The trailers and previews did absolutely nothing for me, and with nary a movie star in sight, I was not expecting much. Adding on to this feeling was that not being a fan of the book series, all I knew was that the title character’s big power was that he, are you ready? Can jump REALLY far!! As my head was down and I sat in my seat, the film got started. And then, a realization came to me: This, Amigos, is the best way to go into this film. Because, not only was I entertained, but I could see a franchise getting spawned from this movie. Director Andrew Stanton, doing his first live action film after many years at Pixar (and directing hits for that studio such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E) has taken this over 100 year old tale and brought it to magical life for modern audiences. Also along the way, he has added some winks and nods towards some of his favorite films and genres. There are elements of westerns, along with Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And, if you pay attention, there’s even a slight wink towards James Bond. All of which add up to a pretty rollicking good time with this critic!
The film starts off with a crawl that describes what the character will be dealing with, as Mars is in trouble. Then, we are treated to a nifty pre-title action sequence, along with Carter being in the Civil War. From there, he is captured (in a pretty hilarious chain of events) and subsequently escapes a pack of Apache Indians, where he is then spun to what will be the main part of the story, just discovering his powers (or is it power?) and what he was put on the planet Mars to do. Of course, he does not realize exactly where he is at first, and when he does finally come to this realization, it is a fantastically done moment that gets the audience inside his head. Which brings me to the top billed actor in the film. Coming in, all I knew about Taylor Kitsch was that he was in the show Friday Night Lights and was going to be in the upcoming Battleship movie (both produced by Peter Berg, by the way). I must say: he really establishes himself here, and carries the torch of John Carter like a pro. He also deserves boat loads of credit because a lot of the time in this movie, he is acting alongside nothing but animated characters. He even does a full on battle with nothing but CGI characters at one point (which includes the always dreaded CGI blood as well) and handles himself magnificently. Even if the ballet-type sequence in which he discovers his powers is played a bit too cartoonish, you come to expect sequences like this in these types of films. Especially in films that are directed by a Pixar alum.
His surrounding cast is pretty good too. From the moment Collins springs onto the screen with her piercing blue eyes reading a monologue, you know that she is going to be the love interest. And, you know what? Despite looking somewhat like Megan Fox, Collins proves to be much better than her in many respects, such as reading lines and making you care for her character of Dejah. The chemistry between the two is pretty apparent, (they were both in X-Men Origins: Wolverine together, so they are at least a little familiar with each other). Even as Carter warns her that it could be dangerous, Dejah swings her sword and knocks the attackers off, making for a pretty hilarious exchange. The other cast members are fine, even if it is just their voices making the appearance. Dafoe has great readings as Tars, and Church also brings it as Tal. And, for us geezers who remember, there’s even a bigger, more updated version of Fizgig from The Dark Crystal.
There were just a couple small problems with John Carter. First of all, the pace did drag a bit towards the middle. There were spots when they could have easily trimmed at least 10 minutes off its full 132 minute running time. Also, I do not know if it was just me, but there were times that, except for the main (human) antagonist of the film, with so many surrounding 12 foot tall aliens, I really could not tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in this thing. But, you know what? Stanton, the true pro that he is, has injected the film with enough humor and action scenes to make these roll right off your back. This means, for the most part, he just is not taking it too serious. Which, in the end, is the correct route to take with this material. I highly recommend John Carter. Then again, let me say I don’t. Just so you go in with an open mind and enjoy yourself. Isn’t that what films like this are supposed to do anyway?
4 out of 5