March 13, 2012

Film review: JOHN CARTER

From Mondo Tees, by JC Richard:
vastly superior to any of the official work
John Carter is a big-budget science-fiction adventure film, from a celebrated animation director branching out into live-action and based on a popular series of pulp novels first published over 100 years ago. And to top it all of, the series of novels have been so influential on pop culture over that last century or so, almost every beat of the story and every character detail has been re-appropriated by other filmmakers.

Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar classics Finding Nemo and WALL.E, had his work cut for himself then, bringing this long gestating passion project to the big screen. But as Brad Bird recently proved with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, animation directors can make the successful leap to live-action. And so, despite a lacklustre marketing campaign and numerous critics condemning before it had even been released, I was looking forward to John Carter; especially to see if this proto-science-fiction tale stacked up.

The story finds ex-Confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) on the run from, well, damn near everyone. He's a complex man of conflicting characteristics: 
a man weary of war who doesn't shy away from throwing himself into a fight. He is quickly established as a hurt, ornery man with a crafty intelligence and, while taking refuge in a cave lined with gold, finds himself miraculously and quite accidentally transported to Mars. The planet is known as Barsoom by it's, largely humanoid, inhabitants who are themselves all caught up in a planet-wide civil war: the evil, resource devouring Zodangans fighting the last outpost of Helium. Caught up on the sidelines are the Tharks - a harsher, more primitive race of 8-feet tall green-skinned, be-tusked, four-armed aliens.

It is a tribe of Tharks, and their leader the kinder, more thoughtful Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who first discover Carter on Mars. And thanks to the lower gravity on Mars/Barsoom Carter is gifted with vastly increased strength, able to leap huge distances in a single bound - he is very much a proto-Superman.

The leader of the Zodangans, Sab Than (Dominic West) is gifted with an ultimate weapon by the shady and manipulative Matai Shang (Mark Strong) - a member of an incredibly powerful godlike beings. He decimates the Heliumite forces, but offers to cease all hostilities if the Princess of Helium, Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins) consents to marry him. She runs and Carter (very literally) leaps to her rescue. Carter is a wrinkle in the plans of Matai Shang and finds himself becoming more and more involved with the world and war of Barsoom.

Yes, there is a lot of heavy plot mechanics and silly sci-fi names going on here. But there is also a fully conceived and constructed world. Obviously there is a vast amount of original material that Stanton and fellow script-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon have been able to pull from to create this world. But it was these details, these constructions, that made me happy to go along for the ride; I never felt like the filmmakers were talking down to their audience.

And Lynn Collins' Deja Thoris - the Princess of Mars of the original story's title - is the strongest female character in science-fiction since Princess Leia and Ellen Ripley. In fact, it isn't difficult to see how much the character influenced Lucas' creation of Leia. Deja Thoris is strong, smart (she's not only a scientist but the lead scientist), an ass-kicking warrior who throws herself into the fray and who carries herself with an effortless sex appeal. Collins absolutely invests herself in the role, delivering even the most ridiculous sounding sci-fi dialogue with heart. She is a true bright spot in the film; offering heart, smarts and sex appeal.

Stanton proves himself no slouch in the action department. One scene in particular is a remarkable stand-out; Carter throws himself into a rampaging band of Tharks and becomes a one-man rampage. Stanton uses the scene to reveal the broken heart of the character and not just as an excuse to show-off some cool lookin' shit.

John Carter is hardly a revelation of a film or even a break-away hit; it has it's shaky moments, when you feel like it hasn't quite been carried off. But it certainly isn't the boring stinker a lot of people are proclaiming it to be. There's crazy aliens, a genuinely cute six-legged dog sidekick, a beautiful princess, a reticent hero and delicate solar powered ships that sail through the sky. The plot workings get a bit intricate and complicated but John Carter, overall, works. 

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Kitsch could have definitely been a little bit more charismatic but the flick still works due to amazing special effects and some really fun and exciting action. Sad thing is that this flick was made for $250 million and won’t make any of it back. Not a must-see by any means but still a good one to check out for the fun of it. Check out my review when you get the chance.