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John Carter - Review

John Carter

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

ANDREW Stanton is the latest Pixar luminary to make the leap from animation into live action but bringing John Carter to the screen successfully and profitably is probably more of a mission impossible than Brad Bird’s crowd-pleaser.

For starters, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ source material has been borrowed so extensively by the likes of George Lucas (Star Wars) and James Cameron (Avatar) that it now, ironically, looks set to fall prey to being compared to those films.

It also boasts a rumoured $250 million budget, which means it’ll require Avatar-style box office to stand a chance of breaking even.

To be fair, it has a chance given the painstaking care and attention that Stanton has applied to it, not to mention the whole-hearted efforts of his game cast.

Visually spectacular and boasting some cracking set pieces, John Carter certainly has the potential to amaze and inspire a new generation of viewers who have yet to take their cues from Lucas.

Yet it could equally be held back by some of its loftier ambitions, for there is an awful lot of patience required from viewers as well. Stanton’s film draws from several novels in the Barsoom series and is, at times, exposition heavy as it jets between Mars, Victorian England and the Wild West in just over two hours. It doesn’t really feel like the old-fashioned romp it could have been and has a tendency towards the bloated.

That said, there’s still plenty to savour as world-weary Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself magically transported to Mars where he becomes the unlikely saviour of a planet that’s in the middle of a war between the resident Zodangans and the Heliumites.

In doing so, he also finds a potential love interest (and a shot at personal redemption) in the form of Heliumite warrior princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), while incurring the wrath of the spirits (led by a typically sinister Mark Strong) and enlisting the help of the green, four-armed Tharks (led by an unrecognisable Willem Dafoe).

With so many characters and such a complex back story, it’s little wonder that Stanton sometimes feels torn between the need to inject some action or to slow things down for maximum emotional impact and, to be fair, he does a far better job at balancing these needs than Cameron did with the far more derivative Avatar (and in less time).

But by sticking to his (and Burrough’s) principles he may well have given his film too much to do.

Hence, while consistently beautiful to look at and nicely performed, there’s a constant push and pull going on that may not be enough to engage the X-Box generation who want more boom for their buck.

Stanton does oblige where possible and the final half hour, which includes a glorious battle with two white apes, is a blast, while enabling Kitsch to deliver a star-making turn that’s ample reward for the physical efforts the young actor put in.

But where his film is undoubtedly aiming for the long-lasting appeal and franchise-
starting potential of those aforementioned films, John Carter may ultimately be destined for more of a cult appeal a la Dune and Flash Gordon.

It’s a film to admire more than love and to cautiously recommend rather than excitedly shouting from the rooftops about. But it is worthy of your attention, for which Stanton and company deserve no small amount of praise.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 132mins
UK Release Date: March 9, 2012