John Carter, a Civil War veteran, who in 1868 was trying to live a normal life, is ''asked'' by the Army to join, but he refuses so he is locked up. He escapes, and is pursued. Eventually they run into some Indians, and there's a gunfight. Carter seeks refuge in a cave. While there, he encounters someone who is holding some kind of medallion. When Carter touches it, he finds himself in a place where he can leap incredible heights, among other things. He later encounters beings he has never seen before. He meets a woman who helps him to discover that he is on Mars, and he learns there's some kind of unrest going on.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
. Starring: Taylor Kitsch
, Lynn Collins
, Samantha Morton
, Willem Dafoe
, Thomas Haden Church
, Mark Strong
, Ciarán Hinds
, Dominic West
, James Purefoy
, Bryan Cranston
, Polly Walker
, Daryl Sabara
, Arkie Reece
. Music by: Michael Giacchino
Why the venerable Disney would spend over US$250mil of their good money on a science-fiction action adventure set mostly on the Red Planet and around a protagonist with a name as nondescript as 'John Carter' was baffling right from the start, and remains an enigma by the end of this good-not-great movie. Indeed, a lot rides on a movie with such a hefty price tag, but given the successful transition that fellow Pixar alum Brad Bird made into live-action features with last fall's 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol", you might think that Andrew Stanton- the man behind 'Wall E' and 'Finding Nemo'- could also make a similarly triumphant leap.
Alas, this big-budget adaptation of the first book- 'Princess of Mars'- of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 11-volume 'Barsoom' series will likely fulfil only the most modest of expectations. Like any origin story for a franchise, 'John Carter' carries both the promise of an exciting new vision and the burden of setting things up for future instalments. Not Stanton nor his two other screenwriters, Mark Andrews and novelist Michael Chabon, however manage to unshackle the movie from the latter bugbear, so much so that their film never quite lives up to its potential.
And yes, there is certainly promise in the story of a Confederate veteran of the American civil war who goes searching for gold in the Arizona desert and ends up marooned on Mars right in the middle of an impending war. John Carter is this man, whose mode of interplanetary transport is a silver medallion he finds in the hands of a Holy Thern he accidentally kills in a cave on Earth. Once on Mars, John meets a nomadic tribe of Green Martians known as the Tharks led by the unusually empathetic Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). The difference in the gravitational pull between Earth and Mars results in his ability to fly, and Tars spares his life in hope of learning his secret.
Meanwhile, the two Red Martians- Helium and Zodanga- are at the brink of a war that could change the fate of Mars forever. The latter's leader, Sab Than (Dominic West), has a secret weapon bestowed by the Holy Therns, and to save the lives of his citizens, Helium's leader Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds) promises Sab Than his daughter's hand in marriage. Dejah's (Lynn Collins) pleas against her arranged marriage however fall on deaf ears, and her escape from Sab Than and his army ends fortuitously with a chance meeting with John. So as formula would dictate, John and Dejah will fall in love while saving the inhabitants of Helium and consequently the entire Barsoom planet.
Well if it isn't 'Avatar' all over again, you say? The answer is both yes and no. Sure, like 'Avatar's' Jake Sully, John Carter is the outsider who ends up being the unlikely hero saving a civilisation from annihilation after landing on an alien planet. But unlike Jake, John plays the archetype of the reluctant hero that up until two- thirds of the movie had no intention of saving anyone save for getting back to Earth and his cave of riches. Does that make John a more interesting character than Jake?
Unfortunately not- in fact, John remains quite one-dimensional despite a solid lead performance from Taylor Kitsch thanks to unfocused storytelling. Juggling a multitude of characters and just as many separate subplots with the Tharks, Zodangas, Therns and Heliums, Stanton shortchanges his audience's desire to understand John's transformation from selfish to selfless, and perhaps to an even greater extent the romance between John and Dejah that is supposedly the reason for his change of heart. Stanton's attempt to give each of these Martian tribes enough screen time also backfires- so much so that significant supporting players like Sab Than, Tardos Mos and the key villain Matai Shang (Mark Strong) are little more than stock characters.
If 'John Carter' is weak on story, it is only marginally better in its action. Any hope for a thrilling mid-air battle between the fliers from Helium and Zodanga at the beginning is quickly dashed when it is over far too soon- and the same can be said of the other equally unremarkable action sequences. Granted that Stanton certainly lacks James Cameron's experience behind the camera, but that's scant excuse for the lack of build-up or excitement in the ostensible money-shots. Yes, while there is certainly scale in the sheer number of humans or aliens fighting on screen, these battle scenes do too little to keep you engaged in the unfolding mayhem.
And that's just another way in which the film wastes the potential of its actors. Kitsch is a much more compelling leading man than Avatar's Sam Worthington, but his physicality and his emotional depth are wasted in a movie that botches both the action and the drama. Lynn Collins makes a suitably feisty warrior princess, though there are too few moments in the film to allow Kitsch's and Collins' chemistry to shine through. Pity the ensemble supporting cast- especially West, Hinds and Strong- whose characters are so thinly drawn that they are almost inconsequential.
Yet despite its flaws, we must caveat that 'John Carter' isn't the disaster some pundits have predicted it to be. Those unfamiliar with Burroughs' story will find the rich mythology intriguing- though whether the film satisfies your sense of curiosity at the end is another matter. Stanton has also made this family-friendly, so younger kids will be distracted by the gorgeous production design as well as John's irresistibly cute pet beast Woola. But considering the budget and the talent involved, the fact that it is only a middling action-adventure is ultimately disappointing. After all, it says a lot when your impression of John Carter is just as indifferent before and after two hours of spectacle.
Review by moviexclusive from the Internet Movie Database.