It’s hard to believe that the same filmmaker who made us fall in love with a waste-recycling robot is responsible for the over-long, humorless adventure that is John Carter. Directed by animation veteran Andrew Stanton (of Wall-E and Finding Nemo), this expensive, live-action film is based on a series of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 100-year-old fantasy-romance novels, and features Taylor Kitsch as a former Civil War soldier in Arizona, who comes across a mysterious cave and a powerful amulet that instantly transports him to Mars, or Barsoom as it is referred to by the locals.
Once there, he encounters several warring factions including the Zodangans, the Heliumites, the Tharks, and the Therns. When he falls in love with Helium princess Dejah Thoris (a wooden Lynn Collins), he teams up with her to save the planet from some sort of threat that is never clearly defined.
Despite some impressive CGI battle scenes, and fantastic creature design, the story itself feels episodic and boring, with Carter repeatedly being captured and escaping over and over again. Fine actors like Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton are buried under prosthetics to play members of the green-skinned, four-armed barbarian tribe, the Tharks. And leading man Taylor Kitsch just doesn’t have the presence or the acting chops to rise above this fractured film.
Fans of the books might appreciate that the film is faithful to Burroughs’ dense writing, but those unfamiliar with the stories are very likely to find themselves at sea amidst the clunky dialogues and the incomprehensible plot turns.
I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for John Carter. Thrillingly staged action scenes can’t make up for the dull characters and the confusing plot.