The hero’s journey has been used to death at this point in film history. It seems every major blockbuster has some version of it. Even when Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars in 1917 the hero’s journey was not that original. So it should not be very surprising to hear that some of the story elements within John Carter (an adaptation of Burroughs’ book) come across as stale. However, John Carter found the right director in Andrew Stanton (of Pixar fame) as he is able to inject a lot of interesting and exciting elements into the world of Barsoom.
John Carterfollows the eponymous character as he is accidentally whisked away to Mars (which the locals refer to as Barsoom). There he finds two groups of humans in the middle of a bloody war and a species of aliens that tries to live without any interference from the humans. Also in the fold is a group of mysterious shape-shifters that may hold the key to a power of unimaginable lengths. With such a complex story, it would seem odd to hand the reins over to a director who has never directed a live-action film. Surprisingly, Andrew Stanton’s direction makes him seem like the perfect fit for the job. The film takes a while to get going (the script is doing so much at the beginning that it becomes difficult to get into the film at first), but when it does Stanton does a phenomenal job of world building. The onscreen representation of Barsoom easily rivals Pandora or any of the Star Wars planets. It’s an interesting place and the script and direction adds so much depth to them. While the characters never reach the level of depth that the setting does, there is enough there for the lack of character development to never be an irritating problem.
The acting is nothing special with one exception. Lynn Collins delivers a breakthrough role as the Princess. The character is not well written, but Collins brings so much charisma and heroism to the role that she will be one of the first things you can recall about this film. Taylor Kitsch is a solid lead but comes nowhere close to bringing Tim Riggins to the big screen. Dominic West and Mark Strong do their normal villainous bit and Willem Dafoe does an interesting attempt at a motion capture performance.
The technical aspects are all top notch. The art direction is interesting and ultimately splendid. The costume design, while not extravagant, fits perfectly for the film. The visual effects and sound design may be some of the best you will see all year. My only recommendation would be that you see it in 2D as the 3D elements only hinder the viewing experience.
John Carter may have some pacing problems early on, but it ultimately builds an interesting world that deserves another visit there and a kickass heroine that deserves another turn on the big screen. While that will never happen, you might as well just accept the good elements in this film.