John Carter is a mundane title. It doesn’t say anything.
When I first saw the title, murder mystery and images of a detective in a rumpled suit popped into my mind. Cigarette dangling from his mouth, Carter roars after a cold-blooded murderer in his banged-up brown Chevy.
The title alone isn’t going to entice you to buy a ticket. Combine that with a serious lack of push by Disney to fill theaters and poor John could have a problem. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax did pretty well last week and with the non-push by Disney, it could end up at the top of the heap again.
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While the title is strange, the plot and who did the movie is doubly so. It’s directed by Pixar animator, writer and director Andrew Stanton.
At this point, the unknowing say, “So it’s an animated movie?” No. You’ll find none of Stanton’s talking toys, goldfish in the ocean, cute little robots or monsters in a closet. This is live action, and John Carter is on Mars.
Stanton? Mars? Live action? Really?
The fabled animator’s film is based on a once-famous fable. Around the time he created Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs gave life to John Carter. His hero is a bitter Civil War veteran turned gold miner. In a cave full of the stuff, Carter encounters a strange man holding an amulet. Carter is forced to kill the guy. When he grabs the amulet, it transports him to Mars.
Natives of Mars call it Barsoom. With its low gravity, Carter is stronger than most Martians, can leap long distances and generally is a lethal force to anyone dumb enough to get in his way.
And there are plenty of dumb Martians.
Taylor Kitsch (TV’s Friday Night Lights) is the buff Carter doing a romantic dance with Lynn Collins’ total babe Martian princess. Her city is about to be conquered by a rival city, and the conquest spells doom for Barsoom.
Stanton — who helped write John Carter — just bases the flick on the Burroughs novel and the subsequent sequels. The changes help line up the plot with what moviegoers will pay to see these days. Think Conan the Barbarian clashing with the gods of Clash of the Titans who are conquering Mars, Gladiator style. Tack on 10-foot tall Martians, monsters, mayhem, clever flying machines, a stock villain with almost nothing to do, a bit of romance, some humor and lots and lots of action to that description, and presto — John Carter.
Driving the fighting are ghostly creatures with an agenda. Their leader is played by the excellent character actor Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). He and the actors voicing Barsoomians — Samantha Morton, Willem DaFoe, Thomas Haden Church among them — are superb. Kitsch, Collins and the co-stars playing humans and human like characters, not so much.
But who cares? In excellent 3D or the more mundane two-dimensions, John Carter is anything but boring. This is movie fun in the traditional Saturday afternoon matinee style.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes and violence. It opens Friday, March 10 at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.