John Carter

Year: 2012
Studio: Disney
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writer: Andrew Stanton/Mark Andrews/Michael Chabon/Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafgoe, Cirian Hinds, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Bryan Cranston, Daryl Sabara

Everything you've heard about John Carter is true. It's staggeringly average, remarkably middle of the road, and an epic portion of stuff we've seen before. The problem with basing a film on a century old series of books that are said to form the basis for all modern science fiction is that every sci-fi film you've ever seen contains elements from it, so spaceships and beautiful princesses on another planet just doesn't cut it in 2012.

Virtually nothing about the film is bad (except that abominable title – even calling it Adventures on Mars would have been an improvement). But nothing about it is great either, from the effects to the performances. One thing going for it is a sense of scope. It's an old fashioned, rollicking tale that's made to be seen on a big screen, but the action is done in the shaky style that's so in fashion today, and it mostly ruins the 3D experience on a massive screen because you just can't follow what's going on.

As far as the story goes, it also suffers a little from Lord of the Rings syndrome. It's obviously come from a very rich literary source where more elements are important than they could possibly introduce and develop in a two-hour movie. Much of the exposition about who everyone is and what they have to do with each other feels rushed and more than once you'll lose your grip on it.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a confederate soldier in the American Civil War and a rebellious soul who stumbles upon a cave where a strange amulet sends him through space to the planet Mars. It's called Barsoom in the local parlance, has air, vegetation and wildlife, and is also home to two warring states and a race of four armed aliens who capture John when he arrives.

Because of the lower gravity, Carter can execute the gigantic leaps you've seen from the trailer, and it doesn't take him long to escape and find himself in the presence of the beautiful princess (Collins, more svelte and sexy than we've seen her), whose people are on the brink of enslavement or extinction at their enemies' hands unless she marries their leader.

Carter joins the war, finds a new home and a new cause to fight for, gets the girl, etc, etc, in a narrative that would have been incredibly futuristic and breathtaking when Burroughs first published it but which we've seen everywhere from Star Wars to Dances With Wolves today.

It's a good thing the film does have a sense of spectacle, because in the end that's all it is. Like his fellow Pixar animator Brad Bird did with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Stanton has a great eye and with the right script and the right spirit, I think he'll make a great film one day.

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