Brave new world is little wonder
John Carter Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Bryan Cranston. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, directed by Andrew Stanton. 132 minutes, rated M (violence), showing at Reading Cinemas Porirua. On the rare occasions a big-budget space adventure is green-lit and reaches the cinema, there’s always a little voice in my head – probably that of an eight-year-old – pondering ‘‘is this the one?’’
Is this the one that’s going to be good enough to be talked about in the same sentence as Star Wars? Is this the one that fills my heart with intergalactic wonder? And, alas, due to diminishing expectations over the years, is this the one that doesn’t supremely suck?
John Carter is the one – but only in terms of not totally sucking. It has its magical moments, but they are certainly outweighed by the awkward ones.
An American Civil War veteran is transported to Barsoom (what the Martians call Mars) while prospecting for gold – where his strength and abilities are magnified. He leads oppressed Martians in battle against the evil ones, and charms the heart of a princess. Bloody crazy premise and escapism at its purist.
The movie is based on the pulp fiction serials of famed fantasy writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, published between 1911 and 1943, which carved out a seminal entry in a subgenre of science-fiction known as ‘‘planetary romance’’.
Can’t say I’ve come across the term before but when you consider its connections to the western genre – barren landscapes and showdowns between good and evil – aren’t much different than those of Star Wars, his influence is undeniable.
And like Lucas’ pictures, and Flash Gordon for that matter, John Carter is unashamedly a space opera.
Those of you who like a lot of science in their science-fiction will be choking on their popcorn around the time John Carter isn’t, from breathing CO .
For the rest of us, the problems are more character related. Barsoom is home to many kinds of Martians and none of them are very engaging.
The humanoid ones – the warring clans of Helium and Zodanga – are prone to campy costumes, ridiculous dialogue and onedimensional archetypes.
I know that’s space fantasy to a certain extent, but any scene involving Princess Dejah Thoris ( Lynn Collins) or her father (Ciaran Hinds) prancing about their CGI palace, babbling about goddesses and blue light, had me thinking the Star Wars prequels weren’t too bad after all.
And what on Mars is Mark Strong doing in this movie? A powerful oracle/spectre no less, with a cockney accent!
The lanky, four-armed green Martians provide some much needed savagery to the equation, but suffer from the apparent decision not to use performance capture – or at least not very well.
Perhaps I expect too much after Avatar, but I wanted the talents of Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church to come through their characters in more than just their voices.
A little more successful is our leading man, Taylor Kitsch, an intriguing choice to play Carter.
He’s not as physically imposing or macho as we have come to expect from a Hollywood action man.
This is refreshing to a point. I found it hard to separate Kitsch from the brooding Texan high schooler he played on Friday Night Lights, let alone accept him, dressed like He-man, as hero to a dying planet.
I can’t think of a type of movie that’s harder to nail than a space fantasy that’s playful, epic and fun for the whole family.
As lukewarm as I am about this movie, I admire Andrew Stanton ( Toy Story, Wall-e) for giving it a crack – so few would dare.
Should Disney see promise or profit in a sequel, I’ll line up for a ticket. I may even ponder: ‘‘Is this the one?’’
Stranger in a strange land: Taylor Kitsch strikes a heroic pose in John Carter. Space fantasy is a notoriously difficult genre to pull off, and though director Andrew Stanton doesn’t succeed, we thank him for trying.