Dir. by Andrew Stanton - 2 hrs. 12 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There was a persistent narrative in the media about "John Carter" for the first month or so of it's release, about what a bomb it was. Granted, it didn't immediately set the box office afire, but it did eventually cover costs worldwide. It seems like that story popped up more as a sign of the times, with the idea of hanging a costly boondoggle around the neck of a giant media conglomerate. I suppose that was supposed to make everyone feel better about the recession that we're trying to claw our way out of, to think that the big guys didn't have it any better than anyone else. I should add that I wasn't particularly captivated by the trailers that I saw - I hadn't read any of the source material (I was aware of the character because it's part of a piece of comic-book trivia: Frank Miller's first published artwork was in a 1970's Marvel Comics series about this character), so there was no reason to expect anything other than something in the realm of "Prince of Persia."
But something funny happened. It seemed for a couple of weeks, every time I logged onto Twitter, someone different was saying what a fantastic time they had watching "John Carter." One after another, recommending that people ignore the media chatter and go see it for themselves. And that caught my interest. I'm not adverse to big action/adventure movies, and seeing people willing to recommend something that was being widely mocked? Interesting.
The titular character (Taylor Kitsch) is a civil-war veteran; aggressive, uninterested in taking orders from anyone, and mired in a seemingly futile search for a cave full of gold in the southwest. He gets hauled in by Powell (Bryan Cranston) in an attempt to draft him into the U.S. Army; they have need of his particular skills, as there are constant skirmishes with local Native Americans. Carter wants nothing to do with it, and escapes his jail cell. In the chase, the soldiers (and Carter) encounter a band of Apaches, and things go quickly south. Powell is wounded, Carter saves him and they escape into some nearby mountains. Luckily enough, the cave they hide in turns out to be the cave that Carter has been looking for, but he encounters a strange being. The upshot: Carter is transported to Mars in a flash (although he doesn't learn that for a while). Once on Mars (which is called Barsum by the Martians), he discovers that he can jump extraordinary distances and is far stronger than any of the natives (it's a matter of gravity - having a physique made for the demands of Earth makes Carter nearly a super-hero on Barsum). These skills are useful to nearly all of the Martians, as it's a planet in strife.
If it seems like that doesn't really leave much room for interesting plot developments, you'd be wrong about that. I'm being vague because the turns are excellent, and the entire film really is a roller-coaster ride (if you like roller-coasters; feel free to substitute whatever ride you prefer if roller-coasters make you a little sick, like they do with me). It's a clever, smart film for a big sci-fi thing, but the film doesn't make a big deal about that. If you catch some of the smaller details, you'll be rewarded, but not catching things won't detract. To further the roller-coaster analogy, "John Carter" is a fast, fun movie. One action sequence flows into another, and there's a light-hearted sense of humor present that goes a long way. I kind of feel that to talk about a lot of the details of the movie would spoil just how much fun the whole thing is. So I'll just talk about how wonderful the Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is. Aside from Collins' stunning beauty, the character is everything you'd hope a princess would be: smart, selfless, and a warrior when need be. She's a character that her own people can look up to, which is a refreshing difference from how princesses are frequently portrayed.
I had more fun watching this film than I've had in a long time. It's not a surprise that director Andrew Stanton was capable of telling a good story (he's responsible for the Pixar hits "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E"), and this is a worthy addition to his list of credits. But, considering how badly people talked about "John Carter," I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how good of a movie this was. Who knows if there will ever be a sequel (storyline-wise, that's a reasonable option), but I'd be in line to see it .
4 / 5 - Theatre