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Disney's 'John Carter' review

REVIEWS - MOVIES

A moderately diverting, though not out-of-this-world, experience...

Review: John Carter, starring Taylor Kitsch

This big budget spectacle has already been met with some scepticism, both at home and overseas. Rumours are that a trilogy was in the works should John Carter hit box office gold. However, this may be in some doubt following its lukewarm reception.

Our hero, John Carter, is a former Confederate soldier who has lost his passion and his social graces. One day, he is transported to the planet of Barsoom (aka Mars), where he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between Zodanga (dressed in red, therefore obviously evil) and Helium (dressed in blue). Whilst searching for a way home, he meets, and inevitably falls for, Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who is as impressed by his rippling muscles as she is by his ability to defy Barsoom’s lesser gravity and leap tall boulders in a single bound. He also both antagonizes and befriends, then antagonizes and befriends again, the green-skinned many-limbed Tharks, whose leader is voiced ably by Willem Dafoe. Also, Mark Strong hams it up suitably as an ethereal busybody with less than fuzzy feelings towards our hero.

In truth, John Carter is not a bad film. There's a lengthy introductory segment which introduces us to the surly eponymous protagonist and his fresh-faced nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (yes, the very same!), going about their business in the late 1800s, but whilst the Earth-based scenes are largely unnecessary, and add to the already hefty running time of the film, they do serve to emphasize the alien nature of Barsoom. In fact, when John Carter arrives on the planet of Barsoom, at which point the film really finds its stride, the setting is richly imagined and beautifully rendered. If only the director and co-writer, Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), had taken as much care with the characters.

A still of Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in, you guessed it, John CarterThose viewers who recognise Taylor Kitsch from his work in the critically acclaimed television drama Friday Night Lights will know that he is one to watch. In this, his first high profile leading role, he holds his own against the CGI, and if his turn as John Carter doesn't add to his thespian gravitas, it certainly doesn't put you off seeing him at the helm in Battleship (out later this year), unless you weren't planning on seeing it anyway of course. [Silly non-Transformers fans... - News Ed.] If anything, Kitsch and the rest of the cast are let down by the uninspiring screenplay which, whilst it has its amusing moments, lacks that element of wit and self-deprecating humour which could have elevated the experience to enjoyable, instead of just, well, good enough. For example, the bad guys seem to be bad just because they are. Even the hero lacks depth of character, and whilst it is easy to criticise Kitsch’s failure to “emote” in the film, this seems more to do with the material rather than his acting ability. Also, there are a few plot holes; everyone seems to be fighting over the ninth ray and, I must admit, I still don't know what it is, let alone the first to eighth rays. Perhaps any expository scenes hit the cutting room floor in favour of 3D CGI spectacle?

And that brings me on to the 3D. It’s more impressive than Clash of the Titans and even, at the risk of being lynched, the final Harry Potter film. However, if you are having a tight month and don’t want to fork out the additional charge for a 3D cinema experience, it won’t, in my view, damage your overall enjoyment of the film.

For the more bloodthirsty viewer, the 12A violence won’t exactly thrill, and on occasion the fight scenes come off as a little frenetic. However, there was plenty to entertain, although I would have liked a bit more inventiveness from Andrew Stanton et al when it came to devising ways for John Carter to use his new found superpowers.

Ultimately, as an admirer of Sci-fi/Fantasy, the film held my attention throughout, although the same might not be said for my somewhat reluctant plus one. As far as entertainment value goes, it's a decent enough way to spend two hours, and for fans of the genre, it should satisfy if not overly impress. However, for those who have been looking forward to a big screen version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic for years, I suspect that the overwhelming feeling is likely to be one of disappointment, and a stab of regret for what could have been.

3 stars

See also:

7 reasons why I can’t wait to see Disney's John Carter


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