War-weary, former military captain John Carter is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris. In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes Release Date: March 9, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)
Cast And Credits
Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe
John Lasseter, Jim Morris
The cast of Ã¢â‚¬Å"John CarterÃ¢â‚¬Â includes a bunch of actors best known for the parts they play on television Ã¢â‚¬â€ Detective McNulty from Ã¢â‚¬Å"The Wire,Ã¢â‚¬Â Walter White from Ã¢â‚¬Å"Breaking BadÃ¢â‚¬Â and, most prominently, Tim Riggins from Ã¢â‚¬Å"Friday Night LightsÃ¢â‚¬Â (Texas forever!) Ã¢â‚¬â€ but the movie itself evokes a much older vintage of popular culture. Directed by the Pixar fixture Andrew Stanton (Ã¢â‚¬Å"Finding Nemo,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬Å"Wall-EÃ¢â‚¬Â) and based on a 1912 magazine serial by Edgar Rice Burroughs, it is a potpourri of arcane and familiar genres. Ã¢â‚¬Å"Mash-upÃ¢â‚¬Â doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t begin to capture this hectic hybrid; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more like a paintball fight.
Messy and chaotic, in other words, but also colorful and kind of fun. The movie begins in an atmosphere of Victorian spookiness: an old manse with dark paneling, a sealed tomb out back and many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore piled up in the study. In the blink of an eye weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in Arizona Territory just after the Civil War, which is to say classic western territory, with monumental rock formations, beleaguered cavalrymen, bellicose Apaches and a dark saloon into which a taciturn stranger comes a-moseying.
That would be John Carter himself (Taylor Kitsch), a Confederate veteran with a knack for mortal combat and a gloomy aversion to same. But the fight finds him, first in a box canyon on loan from a John Ford picture and then Ã¢â‚¬â€ nonspoiler alert! Ã¢â‚¬â€ on Mars. The red planet resembles the Old West both geologically (a lot of dusty red rocks) and thematically.
A Civil War rages between two factions of Red Men, though it is actually the green, four-armed humanoids known as Tharks who serve the traditional western function of Indians, Noble Savages trying to fight back against a technologically superior foe. The war between the city-states of Helium and Zodanga is more like something out of Ã¢â‚¬Å"Star Trek,Ã¢â‚¬Â but with elements of the sword-and-sandals epics of the 1950s, what with the togas and the armor, the pillars and the pageantry and the ripely histrionic dialogue.
Which I would be happy to quote at length, if my spellchecker didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t keep decorating Martian words with squiggly red lines. The bodies and faces of the non-Thark Martians, by the way, are adorned with many such lines, though their blood is literally blue. I would also be glad to elaborate further on the intricacies of Martian culture and biology, except that a) I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t read the notes I took while wearing 3-D glasses; and b) none of it makes much sense anyway.
And that is just fine. Edgar Rice Burroughs was not J. R. R. Tolkien, or even J. K. Rowling. He was less concerned with constructing a coherent fantasy world than with stringing together as many sensational adventures as he could, and Mr. Stanton (who wrote the screenplay with Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon) follows his example.
Carter, stripped of his shirt and endowed with extraordinary leaping ability (something to do with gravity), befriends some noble Tharks (voiced by Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton), acquires a loyal Martian Ã¢â‚¬Å"monster dogÃ¢â‚¬Â and falls in love with a Heliumese (Heliumian?) princess named Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who is both a fierce sword fighter and a big shot at the Helium Academy of Science.
There is more. There is nothing but more: a huge cast, soaring digital architecture, creatures both adorable and fearsome, lines of dialogue (Ã¢â‚¬Å"Thurns are a myth!Ã¢â‚¬Â) made even more ridiculous by being uttered in earnest. The silliness Ã¢â‚¬â€ much of which is clearly intentional Ã¢â‚¬â€ is blended with some genuine grandeur.
The Pixar touch is evident in the precision of the visual detail and in the wit and energy of Michael GiacchinoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s score, but the quality control that has been exercised over this project also has a curiously undermining effect. The movie eagerly sells itself as semitrashy, almost-campy fun, but it is so lavish and fussy that you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help thinking that it wants to be taken seriously, and therefore you laugh at, rather than with, its mock sublimity.
This may be a sign of the times, and a problem of scale. Ã¢â‚¬Å"John CarterÃ¢â‚¬Â tries to evoke, to reanimate, a fondly recalled universe of B-movies, pulp novels and boysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ adventure magazines. But it pursues this modest goal according to blockbuster logic, which buries the easy, scrappy pleasures of the old stuff in expensive excess. A bad movie should not look this good.