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Disney’s ‘John Carter’ hit theaters March 9 on the hundredth anniversary of its original debut as a series of novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film is a science fiction epic about a former Confederate captain named John Carter who is accidentally sent to Mars where he finds a war brewing between its alien inhabitants.
It is an engrossing, fun-filled, action-packed, character driven movie whose only crime is coming out the same weekend as the mindless, colorful drivel known as ‘The Lorax’ and unfortunately could not compete with it at the box office.
The titular John Carter is played by the handsome Taylor Kitsch, who is largely unknown to the public though he has been in the industry for a while. His most recognizable role as of recent is as Remy LeBeau, aka Gambit, in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and as Tim Riggins on NBC’s ‘Friday Night Lights.’
Kitsch does exactly what he is supposed to do as the leading man of an action adventure film. He delivers a troubled hero with a tragic past and no desire to keep fighting even though that is what he does best. His performance is easily one of the best of the live action Disney films as he is tortured, stubborn, but still a likable and noble man. Kitsch switches easily between being resentful and playfully sarcastic as he encounters the strange cultures of the inhabitants of Mars, or Barsoom, in their language.
Kitsch is accompanied by an all-star cast, including Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Bryan Cranston, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, and even a guest voice from ‘Iron Man’ director Jon Favreau. The voice acting is solid, grounded, and well made while the live action roles are integrated seamlessly by the talented actors and actresses.
The special effects for ‘John Carter’ are definitely worth the hefty price tag Disney paid—a hefty $250 million budget—because every creature on Barsoom looks real and fits perfectly within the desert wasteland alongside John Carter. The action sequences are engrossing, fast-paced, and plentiful.
That being said, it should be noted that smaller children may be frightened by the level of violence and the aliens’ rather brutal culture. The film takes full advantage of its PG-13 rating and while it should be fine for young teenagers, parents should be aware that it is a movie about war and there are many gruesome deaths along the way.
There are a few detractors from the enjoyable storyline and awesome action sequences. The first half hour of the film can be rather confusing as the answers are laid out well after the hour mark, so impatient moviegoers may feel fatigued. Also, the characters are layered and interesting, but one in particular, Sola, gets a very shallow amount of development.
Sola, the daughter of the Thark’s leader Tars Tarkas, is introduced as a disgrace to the tribe and has been ridiculed and punished for most of her life. However, we are never given a direct explanation as to what she keeps doing wrong. We see that she is compassionate and too kind for the warrior race, but the lack of backstory prevents the audience from bonding with her. Furthermore, her storyline sort of peters out by the final act and while she grows stronger by protecting her father, her character still feels rather thin amongst the more well developed ones.
Despite these shortcomings, ‘John Carter’ is still the best live action film since the first ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ (2003) because of its excellent spread of characters, great acting, touching emotional scenes, and stunning visuals. Despite its slow start at the box office, the film has been receiving mostly positive reviews from the general public and hopefully will gain momentum in the coming months.
Overall Grade: 4/5