This one I recommend.

Entertaining; surprisingly fun.

I heard they were making a film based on a 100 years old book, ideas from which have been used or mimicked in countless other science-fiction stories since. My enthusiasm inched downwards. I saw that it was going to be one of Disney‘s live action films. Enthusiasm still low. I saw the unimpressive posters at the local theater and expected an atrocitity. I was wrong.

Carter (right) and Tarkas, observing another battle between Zodanga and Helium.

When the end credits rolled and John Carter was over, not only was I relieved by how good it was but also surprised at some of the names involved, due to my limited knowledge of the film prior to seeing it. I found out the director was Andrew Stanton, one of the writer-directors at Pixar. I say he didn’t do a bad job here. Since the original Barsoom-books by Edgar Rice Burroughs are so old and have inspired so much modern sci-fi, I expected the film adaptation to be something tiresome and too familiar.

The opening tells us that what we think we know of planet Mars is not entirely true. Once upon a time (specifically the 1800’s, apparently) it was an Earth-like planet called Barsoom, where a war between the cities of Helium and Zodanga has been blazing for centuries; perhaps more. However, all changes when the prince of Zodanga, Sab Than (Dominic West) is approached by the mysterious Matai Chang (Mark Strong), the leader of an angel-like but dangerous race known as the Holy Therns, who gives him a powerful weapon known as the Ninth Ray.

John Carter aptly follows a character named John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a fast and agile Civil War veteran in Virginia who searches for gold in certain caves, to the annoyance of the local sheriff, Powell (Bryan Cranston). In one of the caves, after being chased by both Powell and Native Americans, he fights off and kills a Holy Thern and grabs hold of his medallion which somehow transports him to the world of Barsoom. Not used to the gravity he starts hopping around on Barsoom (yes, Mars has oxygen in this story), until he is found by Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), the leader of the Tharks, a group of aliens who stand on the side of neither Helium nor Zodanga.

The Tharks take Carter hostage but intend to learn from him and where he’s from. Tarkas’ second-in-command Tal Hajus (voiced by Thomas Haden Church) wishes to kill him, however, and a female Thark named Sola (Samantha Morton) begins to like Carter.

Sab Than with Princess Dejah on the night of their marriage.

Also to the Thark village comes the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who has run away from her city, before Sab Than comes and asks for her hand in marriage in exchange for peace between him and the ruler of Helium (Ciarán Hinds). When Carter explains his story, Dejah suspects he might be one of the Holy Therns and therefor the most powerful being on Barsoom, even though he’s merely a guy from Virginia.

I feel I have mentioned many characters and complicating subplots at this point but that isn’t enough. Majority of the film is told as a flashback which is read by Carter’s nephew Ed (Daryl Sabara) in Carter’s diary. And yes, Ed is indeed based on the author of the original book, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It gets hard to keep track of everything at times. We have a war between Zodanga and Helium, John Carter trying to figure out who he is, Dejah running away from home as a tough warrior princess, the Tharks trying to study Carter and of course the Therns, who appear in the film less often than I was expecting.

But, believe it or not, I like movies that try to use multiple layers of plot and a vast set of characters. It porbably worked better in the book, yes, but if one pays attention during the film maybe it won’t be all that hard to follow. The Tharks and the mysterious Therns are the ones I enjoyed most out of the many characters. The Zodanga and Helium people are just Spartans in space and nothing really special, Carter is likable but not greatly memorable, Sab Than is nowhere near as fun an antagonist as Tal Hajus and Dejah is just another warrior princess who goes to war in a bikini.

A warrior princess isn’t the only element in John Carter that may seem greatly familiar, though. The scene in the Thark arena? That’s Attack of The Clones for ya. An atmopshere on Mars? Have you seen Total Recall or Red Planet? The Therns are bald people who only show up at important moments and have history planned out a certaing way. The Observers from Fringe spring instantly to mind. Even if you’re a young and inexperienced movie-goer you might start comparing it to Cowboys & Aliens. I also saw similarities with The Dark Crystal and Atlantis – The Lost Empire but if I go on we’ll be here all day.

Mark Strong pulls the strings in ‘John Carter’.

Was I at all bothered by how many tropes and clichés appeared? Surprisingly not. Again, if one keeps in mind how old and also inspiring the source material is, one can probably forgive the film, but this may raise questions as to why you would even adapt such an aged story. Well, I suppose the 100 year anniversary had to be celebrated somehow. In any case, as far as I know, the film does follow the book very closely, not minding tired clichés or too much story, so in that aspect it isn’t a failiure.

Either way, I enjoyed John Carter. I’m don’t always like films that rewrite history, especially the history of our very solar system, but I stopped caring after a while. I enjoyed seeing Carter try to get used to the gravity of Mars, I enjoyed seeing him interacr with the Tharks – who treat him as if he is the weird alien – I enjoyed the complicated story, I enjoyed the action scenes, and, I really cannot believe I’m writing this, I didn’t mind the 3D, which in this film was more about depth than random things flying at you, but the visual effects would have been cooler without it. The obviously CG-animated yet simultaneously very convincing and lifelike Tharks and that awesome dog-thingy in 2D – now this I want to see.

Critics despise this film greatly, it seems. This critic adivices you to give it a shot; chances are that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Is it close too the book; should this adaptation have been made; does it matter? John Carter is fun and entertaining, and sometimes you don’t need much more to enjoy yourself.

4/5 whatever.

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