Cinema Review: John CarterIf you’ve been following any coverage of Disney’s John Carter, you would have noticed how the makers of the film have stressed how influential the original John Carter novels are to modern cinema.

There would be no Star Wars, no Avatar, no Star Trek and no fun in the world apparently.  All this praising of the original stories penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, strikes me as slightly ironic.

Whilst the 11 John Carter novels may have served a certain basis of inspiration for many seminal sci-fi flicks that have been released over the years, there is no getting away from the fact that this movie has been heavily inspired by them in return.

It’s no bad thing, as by and large John Carter is a surprisingly enjoyable family movie.

Directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, largely based on the novel Princess of Mars and starring the likes of Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy and Willem Dafoe, the $250 million budgeted film could best be described as a sword and sandals in space epic.

Now, the source material was written years before modern technology, so naturally you have to take the proceedings with a big pinch of salt. Ultimately, this is old school playground stuff, harking back to the likes of Flash Gordon and bringing with it a sense of naive fantasy with it.

There’s a hero in a strange world with new powers, a princess that needs saving from a doomed marriage, buckling to be swashed and a battle that needs to be won.  All very textbook stuff that resonated with my inner childhood geek.

Taylor Kitsch plays the title character John Carter with a good balance of swagger and charm, a reluctant US calvary man who somehow finds himself transported to Mars (known to the locals as Barsoom), blessed with an incredible ability to jump at high altitudes due to the weak gravitational pull on the red planet, he is thrown into the middle of a war between various races.

On one side you’ve got the Tharks, tall green warriors that have tusks, four arms and an irrational fear of flying (it’s forbidden apparently).  Then you’ve got the Red Martians (humans sporting Roman garb essentially) and finally you’ve got the Therns – shapeshifting ethereal beings that like to be in control of all things.

The Therns are clearly the overall villains of the piece, so naturally their leader is played by the rent-a-baddie of the moment, Mark Strong.

Lynn Collins is suitably charming as Dejah Thoris, princess of Helium (that’s a city, not the gas), a character that appears to be a mix of Xena and Princess Leia.

Now, I’ll be honest.  I’m not at all familiar with the source material but it’s apparent that the film makers are.  Whilst the development of some characters may be lacking, they’ve made up for it by doing their research with the various species indigenous to Mars.

When the audience is introduced to the Tharks, it would have been easy to paint them as ugly and sadistic two dimensional beings that execute their unhatched eggs, but we are shown how they live, socially behave and how they abide by very strict traditions.  There are also various plot strands that deal with the relationships of these characters, executed with such skill by the motion capture performances of Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton, that they are actually more interesting to watch than the story developing at the same time with their Red Martian counterparts.

We’re also introduced to Woola, a strange dog like creature that takes a shine to John Carter and follows him round like a daft puppy.  No doubt a winner with the kids.

The creatures of Mars also look remarkable and it’s some of the best CGI I’ve seen since Avatar.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise considering Andrew Stanton’s portfolio of work (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), who is making his live action debut here and his experience with computer generated imagery has certainly paid off here.

When we saw the film, it was screened in 3d and it should be noted that the extra dimension was added after the film had been shot.  So while the 3d is by no means the best I’ve ever seen, it’s certainly the strongest I’ve seen for a post production conversion.  Which ever way you intend to see the film, seeing it in 2d is not detrimental to the overall experience.

I suppose the big question on everyone’s mind is will it make it’s budget back?  John Carter has been in development hell for many years and with a reported budget of over $250 million, Disney are taking a huge gamble here.

I’d say it certainly deserves to pull in a profit as it’s one of the most entertaining family films I’ve seen for a while.  It may outstay its welcome ever so slightly with it’s running time, but John Carter balances the action, romance and comedy so perfectly it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of work and talent involved.

I really was expecting a turkey with John Carter, but I enjoyed every second of it.

Verdict: [rating=4]

About The Author

Colin lives in south west London. Looks like a hobbit and has been watching films ever since he saw Return of the Jedi at the age of 3. You can follow Colin on Twitter @obicolkenobi.