If Taylor Kitsch is destined to become an action movie hero based off his film slate in 2012, he certainly picked a great project to start off with. Battleship is destined to be summer schlock easily mocked, and Savages has the pedigree to give him the final boost to a career jump started by television’s Friday Night Lights, John Carter is the sort of film that screams to become a franchise.
Based off the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel series, the film focuses almost exclusively via flashback. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a former Confederate Calvary officer turned prospector. Winding up in the middle of a gunfight between soldiers and outlaw apaches while hunting for the big gold score, Carter by chance winds up on Barsoom (Mars) as a stranger in a strange land. Winding up with a band of green skinned super warriors led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), he ends up saving the life of a princess (Lynn Collins) and getting involved in the middle of a civil war between her father Tars Tarkas (Ciaran Hinds) and Sab Than (Dominic West).
She is to be married to Sab to secure peace between warring tribes against her wishes, of course, and Carter’s arrival disturbs long winded plans by an immortal (Mark Strong) controlling the strings of all involved. His presence will change the course of history and if seems like there’s enough plot material from a summary to extend well beyond the film’s 132 minute running time it’s because there is more than enough.
That’s the thing that Andrew Stanton has that he seems to mismanage: time. He has a very fast paced film and takes an enormous amount of material and shunts it into what feels like an abbreviated running time. Stanton has so much material to work with that a three hour epic tale of a hero could fit and not break a sweat; there’s enough here for a six hour mini-series much less a two hour film. This is an epic space opera and Stanton doesn’t quite hone the sheer power of it to its fullest extent. The film never gets a chance or two to breathe, to let us soak in the atmosphere of Barsoom. Instead we’re immediately into the action and it never stops.
It’s a credit to his talent as a director that we’re so involved throughout the film; as soon as John Carter gets going it doesn’t stop until the film’s final credits. Stanton, like Brad Bird in the Mission Impossible sequel this past winter, has shown that directing chops from the world of Pixar translate in more than just purely a visual story-telling sense. And he also manages to bring out a fairly respectable performance from its star.
Surrounding him with veteran character actors for the most part, Kitsch has a lot of weight on his shoulder going into the film. He’s not the John Carter of the novel series in build, nor does he have the sort of sheer intrigue someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would bring to the part based on sheer size alone, but he manages to embody the spirit of Carter. Carter is a man looking for a place in the world where he fits.
He’s a warrior convinced that both sides on Earth are occupying perspectives he has no use for. A Confederate soldier with no use for the US troops who fought for the Union in the Civil War, he has distaste for the Apache equally as strong. Given the pulp dialogue from the novel series, Carter doesn’t necessarily speak the words much less spit them out half chewed. There’s a snarl to him that adds to his presence. That’s the one thing you can’t deny about Kitsch as Carter. As soon as he steps onto the screen he’s a star and it’s hard to take your eyes off him. Stanton’s camera loves Carter and frames him wonderfully; this is a star vehicle for Kitsch and it shows.
Disney has also created an immensely beautiful setting in Barsoom. Rumored to cost between $2-300 million, the film is an immense spectacle that is only equaled by a film like Avatar. The “John Carter of Mars” series by Burroughs was the sort of series that inspired George Lucas years ago and we got Star Wars out of it. John Carter may not hit that level of film-making but it’s a good film in its own right.
Director: Andrew Stanton Notable Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Tars Tarkas, Thomas Hayden Church, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy Writer(s): Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs