Entertaining but not epic
If the new Disney film “John Carter” film were one of the Star Wars saga films it would rank smack dab in the middle between the worst (“Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”) and the best (“The Empire Strikes Back”). Such a comparison seems appropriate since the long-awaited adaptation of the 100-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs’ magazine serial feels like a George Lucas-inspired derivative. This is by no means bad, for there are plenty of things to like about this fun Martian chronicle.
Still, at a cost of a rumored $250 million, “John Carter” is not epic enough to exceed the high expectations of such an investment. Entertaining, yes. Epic, no.
For starters, as one would expect, Director Andrew Stanton’s visual style is first rate, even if it’s not totally original, even though this is his non-animated film debut. (He helmed Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E.”) And the film has some good action sequences, terrific otherworldly characters, and enough imagination to keep things interesting.
Big screen newcomer Taylor Kitsch (TVs “Friday Night Lights”) is the suitably hunky protagonist whose abs nonetheless out-impress his acting chops. As a troubled Civil War captain, he’s mysteriously transported to Barsoom (Mars), where he’s met by the tall, four-armed Tharks, and then thrust into a conflict between the warring Zodengas and the people of Helium. Such a large scale adventure requires a beautiful princess, and Lynn Collins fills the role admirably as Dejah Thoris, with whom Carter is quick to appease. Even a reluctant hero can man up when the right woman beckons.
What audiences want from a film like this is good pacing, creative characters, and enough humor and action sequences that thrill while moving the story forward—with panache—if possible. On these points, “John Carter” delivers more than it fails. So while there is little here that is pioneering, and the dialogue often seems clichéd to the point of cardboarding the characters, Stanton and crew have crafted a fun rendition that should please Burroughs fans. Those desiring somewhat mindless popcorn entertainment that, although it feels a little long, is a promising homage to the best of Lucas’ fantasy epics should also be pleased.
Nothing here as inspired as the Light Saber, but there’s no Jar Jar Binks either.
Some scenes will look familiar to local film fans since big chunks were filmed in the Kanab area.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence.