Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter

John Carter - ***

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe (voice), Dominic West, Bryan Cranston, Samantha Morton (voice)

Review: All in one fell swoop ‘John Carter’ serves as a reminder why movies are magical and great along with why they can be so frustrating in this day and age.  Once upon time there was a magic about going to the movies that few other mediums could give us.  Movies like ‘Star Wars’ paved the way and showed us that an entire world could be created that we could all enjoy getting a peek into.  It’s the success of Star Wars that has made the uphill climb for a movie like John Carter so steep.  

There are things that John Carter does extremely well.  It’s been a while that I’ve been to a movie and truly felt that a unique universe was created.  It’s an extremely difficult task for any filmmaker to accomplish.  Now, had I not known better, I would have considered this a shameless ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avatar’ rip-off.
Since I do know better, I realize that John Carter is based on the book series ‘John Carter of Mars’ written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  This series captivated many readers long before ‘Star Wars’ or any other movie of its ilk came to be.  What will be a shame is that others won’t be as knowledgeable and downgrade the film accordingly.

While this movie is not perfect it is quite fun.  There is quite a bit of exposition here but most definitely action as well.  The special effects might be the best since Avatar.  Melding the CGI with so much human interaction is tough and ‘John Carter’ pulls it off well.  There are a few moments where things look a bit awkward due to the size differences between the Tharks (who take John Carter prisoner) and Carter himself.  However, these moments are few and easy to get over.

As the titular character Taylor Kitsch gives an admirable effort but seems like a suspect choice for the role.  He has all the looks of someone who can be an action star and carry a franchise but just doesn’t quite have the feel of a true star yet.  Even so, as the central character of the film he performs well enough for it to not be a distraction.

While Carter is the central character, the centerpiece driving the plot would be the fate of the Martian princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).  Collins is absolutely gorgeous.  In this role she plays a princess but is not a damsel in distress.  Just as Princess Leia was more than capable of fighting for herself, Dejah Thoris is as well.  Not only can she fight, but half the time she is the one leading the charge.  
 What I appreciated most was they made her kick butt as a warrior, but didn’t over-emasculate her or make her look strange.  She still carried every ounce of femininity and carried it extremely well.  She was a princess but we could definitely tell that was secondary for her. 

With no hope to save their kingdom, Dejah’s father promises her hand in marriage to leader of their rival city.  This is all part of a plan that is set in motion by a group of individuals called the ‘Tharns’ who apparently control all of history and make sure it plays out to their whim.  At this point the movie gets awfully confusing and never quite figures itself out.  There is a long scene in which one of the Tharns pontificate’s on their place in the world that never quite makes sense as much as he tries to explain.  We are still left with questions lingering and no answers.

Fortunately, we don’t’ have much time to dwell on this as the pace moves briskly enough that this plot hole doesn’t destroy the whole movie.  They constructed this world solidly to the point that we are willing to accept the Tharn’s explanation, even if it doesn’t make total sense to us.

Ultimately, you’re not going to learn any deeper lessons on life from ‘John Carter.’  A movie like John Carter is about expectations.  If you go in with the right mindset, can put some plot holes aside, and deal with a few stilted characters then you’re in for a really good time.  ‘

John Carter’ goes back to when movies were fun and we had natural awe of seeing them for the first time.  So much of movies try to explain everything now that imagination gets a little lost. Not in this picture.  ‘John Carter’ is a tale of great imagination that is worth your time.

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