You’ve already been told a zillion times how Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom cycle was the progenitor of Star Wars, Avatar and Dune.
You may even have developed the idea that the writers of Stargate owe Burroughs a substantial debt.
You have probably heard the film adaptation described as Superman in reverse or Tarzan in space.
What you may not have heard yet is the name of the movie to which Andrew Stanton’s début live-action feature bears the closest resemblance.
John Carter is at its heart a de-cheesed rethink of the 1980 Mike Hodges gem Flash Gordon.
In a good way.
If you’ve read A Princess Of Mars you probably already have a fair outline of the film’s storyline. Stanton has refined the mechanic that gets Carter to and from Mars/Barsoom a little. If there were enough Burroughs purists still around that could be an ‘organic web shooter’ scale controversy but personally, with the imperfect recollection of someone who hasn’t read any Burroughs this century, I think it’s neat. There are a couple of other changes that streamline the book into feature film shape too, but it’s still recognisably Burroughs.
Once ex-Confederate cavalry captain John Carter has been ‘telegraphed’ to Mars he finds he is capable of great Hulk-style leaps and feats of strength by dint of the planet’s lower gravity (38% Earth normal, science fans).
In fact, his newfound powers are a close match to Superman’s as described in Action Comics #1. Although all the ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ stuff is handled by his lovable Martian ‘dog’.
Taylor Kitsch plays Carter as a classic American badass. He’s distrustful of authority, determined to win at any cost and unwilling to co-operate with anyone else unless it advances the plot.
And if his mop of shaggy dark hair and dark-rimmed eyes remind us a little of Claudia Winkelman, that’s just a bonus for true film fans, right?
Lynn Collins is a fine Dejah Thoris, deep into weird science but handy with a sword when she needs to be. Plus, easy on the eye. The Swarovski-encrusted ‘wedding dress’ she’s obliged to wear at some point is sure to be up there with Leia’s tin bikini in the all-time sexy nerd fantasy cosplay outfits.
The supporting cast reunites Ciarán Hinds and James Purefoy from HBO miniseries Rome playing characters that don’t seem 250 million miles from their Rome personae.
Purefoy, especially, shines in a smallish but vital role.
Dominic West is a suitably boo-hiss villain who aims to conquer all Barsoom with a death ray made of luminous blue silly string. And Mark Strong is, well, Mark Strong.
And you’ll hear but not see Willem Dafoe as lead Green Martian Tars Tarkas. The rendering of the alien characters is consistently convincing. The rendering of the huge crowds of alien characters in the film’s epic battle scenes is consistently mind-blowing.
John Carter sets a new benchmark for giant fantasy movie battles. It makes the Lord Of The Rings flicks look like Carnage.
I loved this movie. I’m sure it will enter the pantheon of movies that we can’t resist watching when it pops up on Sunday afternoon TV, even though we already bought the Blu-ray.
About the only negative I can find is the opening monologue. It’s a bit duff, but you’ll forget that once the action starts, and it starts early. I think John Carter establishes a new record for setting up its own sequel – about 90 seconds in.
The Time Machine-y trope of having the book’s author pop up as a character is getting a little tired too, I suppose, but there are so many cool scenes in John Carter that I’m willing to forgive it almost anything.
There’s a gladiatorial arena scene that is properly thrilling, some awesome wire-fu swordplay, and a just flat out brilliant bit where John Carter decides to have a fistfight with an entire army.
And the 3D works, for once.
See this film.