After the Civil War, Captain John Carter began a search for riches out in Arizona. Coming across a cave filled with gold, he battles a strange man and takes a strange talisman. He repeats the words whispered by the strange man and is teleported to the surface of Mars. The initial travel proves difficult for him to get his bearings. His brief exploration is cut short when 12-ft tall creatures corner him and take him captive. The leader, Tars Tarkas, is impressed by John’s ability to leap great distances and his increased strength. Meanwhile, the human-like civilizations are at war with each other, bringing the people of Helium in danger of destruction by the Zodanga. Princess Dejah Thoris has the ability to prevent the continued war by marrying the leader of the Zodanga, but she refuses to succumb to such a fate. John and Dejah’s paths coincide and lead to a journey for John to find a way home and Dejah to protect her people from annihilation.
Starring: Taylor Kitsch (John Carter), Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris), Samantha Morton (Sola), Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas), Thomas Haden Church (Tal Hajus), Mark Strong (Matai Shang), Ciaran Hinds (Tardos Mors), Dominic West (Sab Than), James Purefoy (Kantos Kan), Bryan Cranston (Powell), Polly Walker (Sarkoja), Daryl Sabara (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
This cast is made of up those who play two breeds of characters: humanoids and Thark natives of Mars. Leading the way is Taylor Kitsch, who is getting a boost in 2012 with multiple starring roles in big budget films. Similar to his character from the television show Friday Night Lights, he is a man who tries to express little emotion while holding in a lot. He unfortunately comes off a little over restricted, particularly when he has moments to let down the barriers to show he cares. His scenes of escape from the Tharks show no real difference in emotion than the moments of passion for Dejah. Lynn Collins plays the princess and probably delivers the most believable performance of the film. She has a strong determination and defiance that is consistent from start to end. Mark Strong, leader of the Holy Therns (secret race of beings that guide the flow of civilizations), appears reserved through most of the film and only becomes violent in a moment of desperation. Dominic West, who plays leader of the Zodanga, has a fairly one-track mind focused on destroying all who oppose him. Willem Dafoe plays the leader of the Tharks, at least at the start. He has a curiosity that allows his character to be both cautious and stern in his beliefs regarding the outsider and leading his people. Thomas Haden Church gives voice to the brute of a Thark, Tal Hajus.
Disney’s mission to bring this story to life was processed through the direction of Pixar-experienced Andrew Stanton. John Carter, a native of Virginia, ended up on Mars by mistake. After his battle with the Thern, he grabbed the talisman as the Thern attempted to retreat to his home world. With the gravity difference between the two worlds, John discovered that he had what appeared to be special powers, but only get explained to be based on the difference in the effect of his muscles on a lower gravity planet. During his journey, he and Dejah discover the reality of his arrival on Mars and she convinces him that she needs materials back in Helium from the Hall of Science to decipher the code. Sora, the companion Thark outcast, suspects Dejah has ulterior motives from the start, but John’s mission keeps him focused on returning home. There is not a clear reason behind why the Therns support the rise to power of Sab Than, but John eventually sees the issue with the militaristic domination by the Zodanga over Helium.
While the film is entertaining in its exploration of a dream world on Mars, the feel of the film falls a little flat. Taylor Kitsch’s quiet suffering personality worked on television because there was time for the character to develop over the 5 seasons of the show. He only had 2 hours to make a connection and portray the backstory. Also challenging this story is the existence of the source material. A series of novels, The Princess of Mars, were created in the early 1900s, which involved the character of John Carter. In the novel, John was a much more passionate and animated person, which is a huge contrast from this film. It is true though that it was worth the wait to get this created. Multiple developers have considered creating this film since the 1930s, but Disney finally saw a chance with the necessary visual effects. The presentation was clean, though the gravity effects for John seem a bit unbalanced (flying through the air while flinging his feet around makes the harness system used to create the effects apparent).
Though it is unclear why civilizations with loads of guns would fight with swords and what the real purpose of the Therns actually is, the movie at face value is an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours.
Dan’s Rating: 1.5/5