Posted on 04 April 2012 by dubs
Words by James Barone
It was a little hard to judge John Carter from its trailer–or its title. John Carter could be a tale about an idealistic lawyer, or a gritty New York City cop, or a surfer who shreds waves at Mavericks…or whatever, really. In the trailer, there were many instances of our shirtless hero (the title character played by Taylor Kitsch) in an alien land, hurling himself with supernatural prowess into hordes of CGI creatures. Conan in space? As it turned out, not quite.
The film actually starts in New York, 1881. Carter roguishly avoids a mysterious pursuer in a bowler hat and delivers a simple telegram to his nephew, author Edgar Rice Burroughs. He pleads with his nephew to visit right away, but when Burroughs arrives, he finds that Carter has passed away and has left him his considerable estate. More importantly, Carter left behind his journal, which is addressed to young Burroughs, that tells a fantastic tale.
The story jumps back 13 years. We’re in the Wild West, post-Civil War Arizona territory, a rough place for rough men. Carter, a highly decorated soldier for the Confederacy, has fallen on hard times (as his beard probably suggests). He’s a lost man without a home or a country and cares only for finding a fabled cave of gold somewhere in the mountains. After escaping capture by Union soldiers, who mean to enlist Carter’s skills and courage to battle Apaches, our cynical protagonist finds what he is looking for and a whole lot more.
A chance encounter with a Thern, a mysterious race of intergalactic space travelers, lands Carter in Barsoom, or Mars in our Earth parlance. There, he finds that the change in gravity has given him the ability to jump great distances and has granted him superhuman strength. He is captured by a race of four-armed beings known as Tharks, but after showing his skill in battle he is reluctantly welcomed as a full-fledged member of the fold. The aforementioned incident also introduces him to Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a Frank Frazetta-style goddess and red princess of Mars. Saving her from certain death, Carter is thrust into the center of yet another civil war between Thoris’ Helium and the predator city Zodanga.
What seemed like computer-addled fluff from the trailer (and there is plenty of that) belies what is actually a rich and exciting action/fantasy/science fiction film. Based on Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars (perhaps a more descriptive title), John Carter is a sprawling adventure story rife with dazzling feats of heroism and old-fashioned romance.
It starts with good villains. Mark Strong stars as the de facto Thern leader Matai Shang, a shape-shifting lurker who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His motives are unclear, but he is cruel and precise in the execution of his master plan, which seems to be to install Sab Than (The Wire’s Dominic West), a blue Martian and brutish warmonger, as the planet’s overlord. Armed with a powerful, mystical Thern weapon, Than is set to lay waste to the planet, but that will only go so far as winning the loyalty of the people. He forces Thoris’ father to promise him her hand in marriage, uniting Helium and Zodanga by blood.
Thoris, a scientist and headstrong young woman, isn’t having it. That’s where our heroes come in. They’re impossibly perfect. Carter, reluctant to take on the mantle because he lost his wife and daughter in his own Civil War, eventually comes around thanks in no small part to his bourgeoning romance with Thoris. Though she often plays damsel in distress, Thoris too has her moments saving Carter on multiple occasions and generally kicking ass in swordfights.
This is the sort of grand story you’d expect from Disney and the man who brought us Tarzan. It’s got big battles, interesting characters and a love story that spans space and time. Really, it’s the sort of thing you go to the movies for, so don’t let the sub-par trailer dissuade you.
|Categories Reviews, Show||Tags A Princess of Mars,Dejah Thoris,Dominic West,Edgar Rice Burroughs,Frank Frazetta,Helium and Zodanga,James Barone,John Carter,Lynn Collins,Mark Strong,Review of John Carter,Taylor Kitsch|