Adapted from Edgar Rice Burrough’s novel John Carter of Barsoom, Taylor Kitsch stars as former military man John Carter who hails from Virginia in the Civil War-era. Now supposedly dead, the film kicks off from the eyes of his Nephew (named Edgar Burroughs) reading the diary bequeathed to him as part of his uncle’s estate in New York. It tells the story of Carter from his refusal to rejoin the Cavelry and starts at a low point in this life, the loss of his family and his obsession with gold.
His obsession leads him into a cave where mysterious bald man appears with a medallion that eventually transports him to another world. The other world is what we know as Mars, to the people indigenous to the planet, they call it Barsoom. The planet is populated with a variety of creatures including one very similar to humans but the shade of tango. Lyn Collins plays Dejah Thoris; A humanoid red martian, The Princess of Helium and a science professor; who Sab Than (Dominic West); the Prince of Zodanga, the benefitter of a gift of unlimited power and the villain of the film; has his eye on.
The princess, rather than marry this man and unite the cities of Baroom thus ending war and disquiet, would rather spend her time in scientific research developing a weapon to defeat Helium’s enemies. I know many women who, if Dominic West demanded they married him, would punch their prettiest friends in the face just to make sure the wedding went ahead without any distractions.
John Carter meanwhile has been taken captive by some different aliens, The Thark, who are green, have blue blood, four arms and a tribal way of living. His escape is facilitated by the fact that his muscles and physiology are adapted to a different environment so he finds he has “superpowers”. On his journey to find a way back home he’s joined by a female Thark named Sola (Samantha Morton), her large dog monster thing and a freshly rescued Princess Dejah Thoris.
The core theme running through the story is of science and faith. The bald men, a race called The Therns, are either revered as gods or treated as myths. They hold unlimited power in the form of a blue glow, have an infinite life expectancy and they can shape shift. Despite appearing as gods, they are mortal but so advanced in science and so good at hiding that they’ve gained a mythical reputation. The story also tackles humanity, love, greed, war, loss, trust, personal confrontation and what ‘home’ means. It’s a lot to cover and goes some way to explain why the running time of the film is almost two and a half hours long.
This big budget Disney epic is the first live action project from director Andrew Stanton who made his name directing Pixar animations. The influence of his Pixar roots is clearly seen in the mannerisms of the Thark and the personification of the various voiceless species’ on Mars-Barssom. There are a lot of very chuckle worthy moments but the film thankfully never asks for laughter.
The star of the show is the visuals, the visual effects and cgi were the main talking point of the audience post show, the glowing web-like powersource was particularly mesmerising. Everything is ornate, intricate and vast giving the film a feeling of a two and a half hour long piece of visual art. The costume department worked hard to give cosplay fans something to dress up as at conventions. Princess Dejah’s wedding outfit will no doubt be a popular replacement for Princess Leia costumes even though she refers to it as vulgar.
The 3d is subtle and doesn’t bow to the pressure of “oh 3D! We must justify the cost by throwing things at the audiences face”. Even to a 3D disliker like me it was comfortable enough to watch on one of Vue’s new Xtreme screens which are twice the size of a double decker bus apparently. The 3D gives it a depth without playing to any gimmicks.
Although the cast is packed with talented actors, the characters are so two dimentional that they’re never given the chance to make them feel real.There’s been a lot of upset about the casting of the lead characters, debates about racism and “tanning-up”. They’re supposed to be red humanoid aliens but the fake tan makes them a hilarious bright hue of orange making a mockery of what would otherwise be a visually perfect film.The background artists on Mars managed to escape the clutches of the spray tan by already being brown skinned or cgi Aliens.
John Carter is a visual treat and epic adventure with a complex story arc incorporating so many themes, characters, locations and ideas that it’s impossible to describe them all in one go. Watch it with an open child like mind, shush the inner cynic in you and just enjoy a film which a lot of people have put a lot of effort into.
John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church and Willem Dafoe. Opens Friday 9th March in cinemas all over the UK.