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Film review: John Carter


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PosterEight-foot tall, four-armed green barbarians. Giant blind white apes. Tattooed princesses. Sounds like an episode of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, doesn't it?

And it could well be, but for the fact that all these creatures inhabit a planet called Barsoom, or, as we know it, Mars. John Carter is the latest big-budget offering from Disney and sees American Civil War veteran John Carter transported to Mars where he stumbles upon an alien race who take him prisoner. However, it soon becomes clear that Carter can help the alien race fight against forces which would plunge the planet into darkness and in doing so, he encounters a princess in desperate need of his help.

Based upon the 1912 serialised novel A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film is set to become the first 'event movie' of 2012, thanks to its eye-boggling special effects and dynamic action sequences.

John Carter is directed by the prolific writer/director Andrew Stanton (whose past hits include WALL • E, Finding Nemo and A Bug's Life) and stars little-known Taylor Kitsch as Carter and Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah. It has to be said that both performances, along with the rest of the cast were pretty unremarkable but were perfectly adequate within the context of the film's genre. This is not to say that Kitsch has the personality and charisma of a Brazil nut: he doesn't – merely that the film is not going to win any best performance awards.

One of the most exciting aspects of the film is the way it looks. The production design is superb and the imagination of the designers would put the House of Gaga to shame. The creatures, cities and landscapes were a pleasure to watch and had a flair and shine to them which is not often seen in science fiction aimed at a younger audience.

The action sequences (and there were plenty) were proficiently executed and were genuinely exciting and well paced. Now, let's be honest, the fact that the film is in 3D isn't a selling point but one action sequence in particular was enhanced by the geek spectacles. John Carter is forced to fight in a gladiator-style arena against giant white apes and the 3D did enhance the scene, making many in the audience genuinely flinch. Apart from that one instance, however, the 3D was totally redundant and perhaps a better alternative to seeing John Carter in 3D is to see it in IMAX, where all the action sequences will be stunning, especially the sky battles.

kitschAs this is a Disney-produced film, the plot was never going to rival Inception and it was fairly predictable and seemed to have been constructed using an Ikea assembly booklet. That said, the narrative moved along at a fair old pace and was well balanced in terms of the focus on different narrative strands: there was the right amount of action, romance, humour and mystery to keep the audience involved and entertained. The green, impossibly-tall and four-armed Thark warriors were fantastic but one can't help wonder just what the production designers were smoking when they had the Thark design meeting...

And so, John Carter is a competent and dynamic epic fantasy adventure, which will delight audiences with its exciting action sequences and stunning visual effects. Whilst the narrative is nothing new, the film's strength lies in its unashamed pursuit of popcorn thrills and works as a film which both young and old will enjoy. High art this is not, but that's no bad thing.

John Carter is released in cinemas on the 9th March.

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