Friday, March 9, 2012

A Reel Review: JOHN CARTER

There has always been a fine line between science fiction and fantasy, and Disney’s JOHN CARTER adaptation dances on both sides, with a few extra steps on the fantasy side. CARTER endears to the kid in all of us; the kid who once dreamed of travelling to another planet to battle aliens with a sword and rescue the (hot) princess. CARTER has plenty of that to keep the geeks happy, but is that enough to stay buoyant?

War-weary Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is battling his past and looking for meaning in his life when he is mysteriously transported to Mars. There, he becomes embroiled in another civil war of sorts amongst the planet’s inhabitants, including the neutral green-alien Thark race led by Tars Tarkas (voiced brilliantly by Willem Defoe), and the Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins).

CARTER is at its strongest when it focuses on its main character (and damn well it should) and his story. CARTER is a hurt and lost man, not even knowing if he wants to find his way back to his empty life on Earth. When the film drops him into situations where he has to make moral choices, things are really good and you can’t help but to root for Carter.

But where Carter gets a little lost is when the film needs to stop for a bit and does some heavy-lifting in the setup area. A lot of time is spent on explaining the world, its conflicts, and the solutions; so much time that the (awesome) action sequences, when they do roll around, are a huge welcome. By far, CARTER is not a mindless action flick as there is a lot of heart and meaning behind everything, but it is very thick on plot. The endgame is not A to Z and takes some attention to keep sorted. The various exposition scenes where things have to be fleshed out leads to an energy drain that is tough to deal with.

Still, there is a lot to love here. Andrew Stanton breathes a lot of life into a planet that is mostly desert. The design of the creatures, vehicles and weapons are great, and what he manages to do with them is even better. The action sequences are a lot of fun, and again, are far from brainless. As a graduate of Pixar, Stanton keeps things moving along, even when the pacing slows down a little too much.

Performances are very good. Kitsch seems to be directed to stay mostly gruff and tough, and he does that well enough. There was just never an opportunity for him to show any real emotion (heroes can cry, dammit). Lynn Collins does the most acting work, and certainly looks like a bona-fide Princess of Mars. The casting of Willem Dafoe as a green alien with four arms is a stroke of genius, and you can’t help but to smile every time you hear his voice.

True to his Pixar roots, Stanton edges the finale towards a heartbreaking Greek tragedy, only to change his mind and wrap things up happily and neatly. It’s a tad frustrating to see it veer away from the tragic ending, as the film would have felt a lot more serious; more adult. However, the way it eventually does wrap does manage to be clever and make you want more.

CARTER overall makes for a good time at the theatre. Aside from pacing issues and a plot thicker than a phone book, there is a lot more enjoyment than frustration, and everyone can connect to it. It’s difficult not to recommend CARTER for the big-screen; it’s made for it and belongs there.


1 comment:

  1. Despite occasional moments of silliness, the old-fashioned sense of adventure and brilliantly rendered aliens elevate this above other derivative big-budget sci-fi fare. I still wished that Kitsch did a lot better in this lead role but he was only there for eye-candy really. Good review. Check out mine when you can.


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