John Carter (Disney)
(A.K.A. John Carter of Mars)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
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.
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, baswed on the serial novel "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Directed by Andrew Stanton.
I have to admit I wasn't sold on a movie about Civil War-era soldier who travels to Mars, and no less intrigued that Hollywood had mined so deep for material that it had to go into somewhat obscure Edgar Rice Burroughs serial novels. It turns out I was wrong to judge John Carter (of Mars - more on the title change later) prematurely.
Taylor Kitsch plays the title role, a former Confederate captain disillusioned about the War that took his young wife and daughter from him. Carter leaves his home in Virginia to seek mythical cave of gold in the west, only to be accidentally teleported to Mars through a magic medallion he takes from some sort of alien creature he encounters inside that cave of gold.
When Carter wakes up on Mars, he discovers that he has super powers due to some sort of human atmospheric/biological phenomenon. Carter also encounters Tars Tarkis (Willem Dafoe), a leader of a martian tribe of 12-foot-tall "Thark" barbarians, who capture him and give him a liquid that allows different species to understand each other's languages.
Meanwhile, there's political trouble on Barsoom (the native name for the planet) as the feuding humanoid inhabitants are at war with each other. One group lives in the city of Helium; the others are Zodangas, inhabitants of a mechanical moving city that is sapping the planet of all its water and natural resources. The Zodangas are secretly being helped by a few powerful, bald, godlike shape-shifters led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong). When Matai Shang gives a powerful weapon of mass destruction to the Zodanga leader Sab Than (Dominic West), the Heliumite king (Ciarán Hinds) agrees to an arranged marriage between Than and his beautiful princess daughter Dejah (Lynn Collins) in an effort to save his people.
This idea doesn't sit well with Dejah, who escapes the city and runs into the same Thark tribe holding Carter captive. At that same moment, several flying Zodanga ships attack Dejah's envoy, and John uses his super powers to save her and kick some Zodanga butt. The encounter between John and Dejah leads to a quest that leads them and Tarkis' daughter Sola (Samantha Morton) to find the origin of Matai Shang's powerful weapon.
Along the way, John Carter struggles over his disillusionment with war and the reality that his powers could make a difference for a worthy cause.
John Carter is a surprisingly fresh film that has plenty of action, character development, drama, and humor that capture a Burroughs' imaginative vision. As the credits rolled, I learned the reason for the fim's success. It's all due to Andrew Stanton and his team, including script cohorts Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, along with a musical score by Michael Giacchino. They are some of the talented folks who have collaborated on Pixar films, like Stanton's previous works Wall-E and Finding Nemo, two of Pixar's more celebrated animated films. Even though it's Stanton's first live-action directorial work, it's no surprise to me that these guys know how to tell a great story with a giant dose of heart and humanity.
If there's a negative to John Carter, it's the difficulty of keeping up with Barsoom's intricate names species and political climate (much like a George Lucas affair), but all that can be forgiven as the performances by relatively unknown actors stand out and the the script avoids any pretense.
The omission of "of Mars" from the John Carter title speaks volumes to some of the pitfalls that stand in the way of great box office success for the movie. Like myself, I'm afraid many moviegoers might be mystified by the Martian/Civil War premise, but after seeing the film, I can see how unwarranted those fears might be. Another problem for John Carter is its release date, only two weeks before the in onslaught of The Hunger Games, already breaking pre-sales box office records.
Either way, John Carter is a fun, action-packed movie that kids and adults should enjoy. Do yourself a favor and see it, because it's films like these that make movie going fun and leave you wanting for more.