Sunday, June 30, 2013

Movie Review: John Carter

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Epic story that will hold your interest
Cons: Characters could be stronger, but I still got into the story
The Bottom Line
An epic story
Entertains the whole way through
Want to watch again

Epic Action Adventure Science Fiction

I wasn't that intent to see John Carter until I started hearing word of mouth from those who had seen it.  They convinced me that I should give it a shot.  I'm glad they did or I would have missed a great film.

The story is told in a flashback as John Carter's nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara in a very small role) reads a diary that his uncle had just left behind.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Confederate Civil War vet trying to live by himself in theArizonaterritory after the end of the war.  He's had a personal tragedy that has driven him to isolation, and he spend his days hunting for a rumored cave of gold.

One day, he finds himself hiding from a band of Native Americans, and he stumbles upon that cave.  But before he can do everything, a robed figure appears, and John kills him in self defense.  Before the other man dies, he utters a strange phrase.

The next thing John knows, he's in the middle of nowhere.  When he tries to walk, he finds himself leaping incredibly high.  As he explores this new terriroty, he finds himself captures by aliens and in the middle of a feud between two warring human races for the fate of the planet?  And the planet he's on?  Mars.

The movie is based on books by the real life author Edgar Rice Burroughs penned around 100 years ago.  In many ways, the story defies genre.  Yes, it's science fiction since it mostly takes place on Mars and involves an alien species.  But it's also action adventure.  And the epic part?  Well, the movie clocks in at over two hours, but it felt like they had so much more to it.  I kept thinking it had to end soon, but it just kept going.

Now, before you think I was anxious for the movie to be over, let me set you straight.  While the story was a bit slow at the beginning, especially with several different opening bits before the story really got going, I was enthralled the entire time.  As the story progressed, the stakes were raised and John actually came to care for the inhabitants of this strange world where he found himself.

I would say the movie's only failing is that I didn't care quite as much about the characters as John came to.  There was always something keeping me from truly engaging with them.

However, when we got to the end of the movie, I found I did care.  I wanted our heroes to have a happy ending.  I will only give this away about the ending, it is brilliant in that it took a bunch of seemingly random things and made them all bit together perfectly.

The movie is filled with special effects.  Most of the alien species are computer animated, and there is an alien dog that is computer animated as well.  You'd never know it.  Meanwhile, we've got some fun flying ships and other effects.  I bought every minute of it.

The acting was good as well.  The only cast I was familiar with (Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church) voiced some of the aliens.  But just because they were unknowns doesn't mean they weren't great.  Taylor Kitsch as John Carter is in just about every scene, and he's great.  Lynn Collins is captivating as the female lead who is a very strong character in her own right.

There will be comparisons between this and some of the better epics of our own day.  The friend I saw it with immediately noted similarities between this and Star Wars, for example.  Personally, I felt recognized a few conventions as well, especially with some superhero stories.  So it becomes an issue of who ripped off whom.  Personally, I got so caught up in events that I didn't care what I had and hadn't seen before.  I came together in a way that felt original to me.

I chose to see the movie in 2D, so I can't speak to the 3D effects.  I can say I didn't feel like I was missing anything watching it in 2D.

As I said, I was planning on skipping this movie until two weeks ago.  I'm glad I got talked into seeing it.  I highly recommended you make a point of seeing John Carter.  You'll be glad you did.

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