Visually impressive epic adventure suffers by prepping for sequels
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 creation finally hits the screen after 79 years of thwarted attempts, with pre-production on an animated feature originally scheduled for 1931. Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and WALL-E, has teamed up with Disney for this $250 million dollar epic adventure, which feels remarkably familiar due to the many filmmakers who previously drew inspiration from the original story, including George Lucas (Star Wars) and James Cameron (Avatar).
A civil war veteran with distrust for authority and sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans, Captain John Carter (Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch) is transported to Mars by a magical amulet. On the alien planet, known as Barsoom by the inhabitants, Carter adapts to the new territory by forming an alliance with the oppressed citizens of the Helium nation, and specifically with Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). She’s due to be married to corrupt warlord Sab Than (Dominic West), who is under the spell of shape-shifting uber-being Matai Shang (Mark Strong).
The politics of the world John Carter discovers might be hard to explain, but his struggle makes for colourful family entertainment. Kitsch provides a solid personable lead, and Stanton handles the various animated creatures with elan, with his gift for storytelling energizing the sometimes dry material, deftly intercutting Carter’s giddy leaps into battle with his sobering memories of the death of his wife and child. The script, co-written with novelist Michael Chabon, also demonstrates unusual political prescience, portraying Matai Shang as a disaster-capitalist who sneers ‘We don’t create chaos, we manage it.’
John Carter’s overall weakness is its desire to set up sequels at the expense of conclusive, satisfying action, but Stanton’s visual flair and creative panache ultimately breathes plenty of life into the dusty old bones of Burroughs’ hero.