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John Carter
Genre Action
 
Review:

A bearded man with extraordinary powers, savior of a planet, died and buried in a tomb only to rise again with the initials J.C. The life of Jesus Christ inspired the character of John Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired hundreds of writers and film-makers with the Barsoom series of science-fiction novels, which have been adapted into the film, John Carter of Mars.

As much as John Carter is influenced by the story of Jesus Christ it's ultimately a CG-heavy popcorn blockbuster with a myriad of tie-ins with other popular movies. The adventure starts with its feet firmly in the ground and gently swathes the audience in the enigma of the dusty Red Planet as a Civil War vet turn treasure hunter inadvertently discovers a planet, gets imprisoned by barbarians, only to escape and rescue a princess in an effort to find his way back home.

The title character is played by Taylor Kitsch (The Bang Bang Club), who has the anti-hero outsider stylings of an underdog actor, with a likeness to Christian Slater or Stephen Dorff. While more than competent, Kitsch is used as a likable yet vacuous everyman vessel, similar to the role of Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington in Avatar.

He's supported by Lynn Collins as Dejah the Princess of Mars, who is second-in-command in this quickfire action-adventure. She's a pillar of strength, who manages to unleash an equal measure of femininity and ferocity, making her a viable option for future action or superhero roles.

From the outset, there aren't many recognisable faces in this Disney epic besides the presence of seasoned campaigners like Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong and Dominic West. The name cast are all embedded in the CG with performances from Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas, Thomas Haden Church as Tal Hajus and Samantha Morton as Sola. While their names add heaps of credibility, their involvement isn't particularly remarkable and could have been just as effective as a voice cast.

On the surface, John Carter is an Avatar clone, as if directed by Roland Emmerich. However, Avatar and John Carter were both derived in part from the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. WALL-E and Finding Nemo writer-director, Andrew Stanton, has a wealth of animated adventure experience, which probably explains the CG to live-action ratio. He's concocted a blend of action, adventure, fantasy and science-fiction that could very well be a nostalgic tribute to his movie collection.

James Cameron's special effects-laden 3D blockbuster to rule all blockbusters changed the film industry, bringing a new wave of 3D films in a format that would bring audiences back to the cinemas and hopefully curb piracy. John Carter has taken the same template and used it to create a science-fiction epic with similar subplots, themes, styles and characters. Just like Avatar, this science-fiction epic opted for big budget special effects over big name actors.

The 12-foot tall, indigenous alien race may not be blue, but they're the desert land equivalent and possible inspiration for the Na'vi. Their warrior instinct, religious order, ancestral significance and order of being is also a hybrid of the native tribe, blending elements from the American Indian and Central African culture.

John Carter may not be a paraplegic marine, but transplants himself to the planet Mars in a very similar way to Jake Sully's entrance into the jungle of Pandora. Asleep but not dreaming he's taken in as a slave and becomes accustomed to the tribe's way of life in an echo of films like Dances with Wolves. Even the ecological message of Avatar is hinted at as a 'Dark Star' type vehicle roves the red planet.

The Star Wars saga is another filmic influence with reverberations from the world of Frank Herbert's Dune. The epic quality is mirrored in the interplanetary scale, the spacecraft technology, the intergalactic battle of good and evil, the supernatural gifts, the quest of a lone "Jedi" and the strange go-between elders who seem to control the balance of power in the Universe.

John Carter reflects Hollywood trends, although it's difficult to distinguish Burroughs-inspired story elements when they've also inspired the plots for other better films. John Carter features the subject matter of Cowboys & Aliens, traces the swashbuckling arranged marriage subplot of The Princess Bride, mirrors the epic Egyptian Stargate-style quest of Roland Emmerich's 10,000 B.C. with lashings of The Fifth Element, and even features some Superman swoops with a substitute for Xena: Warrior Princess.

At over two hours, there are some slower moments when Stanton takes the foot off the gas. This gives the characters an opportunity to stretch their dramatic range, and the audience a chance to catch our breath. The first half takes some time to digest escalating the adventure to a climax that seems to reignite several times before bursting into flames and landing us safely back on Earth. John Carter is pulpy, comic book action fodder... cheesy at times, yet relentlessly entertaining.    

The bottom line: Entertaining

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