Film: John Carter
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe
The film is centred on an Edgar Rice Burroughs character of considerably less renown than Tarzan. Carter was a confederate soldier in the US Civil War. Though his reputation as a fighter precedes him, his days of martial valour are far behind him. A causeless prospector with his heart set on unearthing gold, he ends up on Mars after an incident in an Arizona cave. (Get this through your head, the context of the film is the pulp-soaked world of an early 20th century adventure/fantasy writer.)
Mars (or Barsoom, as it is known to its natives) is a far cry from the red planet as we know it. Habitable to all forms of life, its gravity endows Carter with leaping abilities that come close to flight. This stuns his capturers the giant Tharks — green, four-armed savages. One of many races on the planet, the tusked creatures don’t seem to get along with other more human-looking cohabiters, the marauding Zodanga and their enlightened, but cornered victims, the Heliumites.
The two nations are at war but the former has the upper hand thanks to the endorsement of Matai Shang (Strong), an ancient being bent on bringing about the planet’s end. After Carter rescues Heliumite princess-scientist Dejah Thoris (Collins), the war-hardened vet reluctantly embarks on a quest to save the planet and its volatile dwellers.
Though one would think that the film is the product of a dated imagination and different times but the boisterous goings-on prove engrossing. The action and visual grandeur, though, doesn’t pick up until after the first hour. Then we begin to witness scenes that justify the 250 million dollar budget. The visual detail — from production design to the convincing CGI paints a vivid portrait of alien wastelands, weird creatures, original-looking aircraft and imposing architecture.
For an adaptation of books that influenced countless Sci-Fi works that came after it, John Carter, has a pretty strong plot that isn't too mired in familiarity. But it has its fair share of hokum. (Shang’s means of achieving annihilation is shrouded in weird-tale mysticism that is never fully explained, Carter’s superhuman physical feats, and other idiosyncrasies). However the overall is more interesting, endearing and cathartic than Avatar. (The dialogues were just about as dismal, if not better.)
With stoic demeanor, Batman-like rasp and reluctance to shed blood (red, green or blue) in support of a cause, Kitsch is Clint Eastwood, He-Man and Han Solo, all rolled into one. Collins as the science savvy princess goes beyond the vapid damsel-in-distress geek’s fantasy with her shows of willfulness. Dafoe as the leader of the Tharks and Strong as the significantly less-plastered Shang have great presence too.
John Carter, for all its flaws, is a visually rich cheese-glazed popcorn movie that is a more enjoyable experience than the more scientifically sound, beautiful, but-in a- simple- wayish Avatar.
Give this swashbuckling, silly space opera a chance.