Director Andrew Stanton has a near-perfect portfolio, writing some of the most important and wonderfully touching and witty children's film of the past twenty years, boasting the likes of the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Yet John Carter is the esteemed film-maker’s first attempt at a live action production, and the jury is out as to whether or not Stanton should just stick with computer animation.
Set during the Civil War in the middle of the 19th century, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a rebel, discontent with life on Earth. And despite his desperate need to escape from reality, not even in his wildest dreams does he imagine that by a freak and mysterious incident he should be transplanted to Mars.
However, following a unpremeditated clash with a human-like alien, Carter finds himself on Mars, and before having time to comprehend what has occurred, he is taken captive by the planet's inhabitants, 12-foot tall green barbarians, led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Yet Carter manages to escape, and when discovering Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins), he soon finds a cause worth fighting for, as he attempts to put a stop to her planned marriage with the evil Sab Than (Dominic West), and defeat the heinous Matai Shang (Mark Strong), to help save the district of Helium.
Despite the exuberance and immensity of the plot, what transpires is a terribly predicable and formulaic family thriller. There are the good guys, the bad guys, the romantic storyline with a distressed Princess searching for her Prince Charming, and a whole host of situations where you can't imagine a way out for Carter, yet ones in which he miraculously survives, as Stanton surrenders to the conventionalisms of the genre. And even on Mars the bad guys are English.
The setting however, is somewhat unorthodox, being set in the 19th century. Nowadays in film you would expect people to get to Mars via an iPhone app, before proceeding to document their adventure on a hand-held camera.
As for the leading roles, Kitsch is your archetypical action protagonist, yet at times his acting credentials have to be questioned. He manages to bring a quite jovial side to Carter, but fails to encapsulate the sentimentality of the part, disallowing the audience to feel any empathy for his character, despite the fact he's playing a suffering widower, far away from home and lost on another planet. Yet he excels in the battle sequences, which I suppose is more essential in this instance.
Collins on the other hand is impressive, as she portrays a distinct level of strength and capability, which allows for her role as Dejah to seem obstinate and powerful, which suits the nature of her character. She knows how to hold a sword, put it that way.
There are some charming and funny moments in John Carter, certainly reminiscent of Pixar films that Stanton has been involved with. When Carter lands on Mars and meets the barbarians, there are some endearing moments between his character and Tars, as the pair attempt to communicate despite the language barriers, and their wariness of one another. The scenes featuring the daunting aliens are the most enjoyable in the film, further enhancing the fact that Stanton has such a talent for creating animated characters.
The picture also looks fantastic, as the vivaciousness of the vast orange and red landscape looks terrific on the big screen, as Stanton's depiction of Mars is vibrant yet intimidating. It's just a shame that it all looks slightly darker behind a pair of 3D glasses. However some of the battle sequences look fantastic and quite daunting against the vast backdrop, especially when taking place between green aliens and human-like creature, and the CGI is brilliant.
John Carter is just what you would expect from a Disney Sci-Fi, fascinating at points, overstated and inane at others. Yet if there is one thing to be said, it's that Stanton has one wild imagination – I just hope that he puts it to use via Pixar in the future.