Thursday, March 8, 2012

Red Planet Romp

John Carter       WWW Score: 88%

"John Carter looks positively inane." That's the tweet I fired off January 12th at precisely 7:55pm. Let it be known at this very moment, I hereby extend a retraction to that 140-character assassination: 'John Carter' is a mightily entertaining, oft-cheesy, oft-soaring spectacle packed with more pulp than Florida's finest fruit.

The film is an amalgamation of 'Avatar', 'One Million Years B.C.' and 'Flash Gordon' but seeing as the source material was penned decades before any of those flicks, it would be fair to claim those are derivative of  Mr. Carter. Taylor Kitsch plays the title role with a Harrison Ford-esque nod; Han Solo's "here we go again" smirk mastered by the ex-'Friday Night Lights' fullback even if Kitsch's overall acting range remains in question - not that he needs much here. Set in the late 1800's, Carter - an ex-Confederate Army captain by way of Virginia - mysteriously finds himself teleported to Mars which just so happens to be smack dab in the midst of a hostile takeover by a group of dudes known as the Holy Therns (the customarily "evil" Mark Strong their leader). Also in play, the Tharks, tusk-faced, six-limbed red planet residents with their own "Na-vian" language and lest we forget the residents of Hellium and their seriously spray-tanned princess Dejah Thoris (the gorgeous Lynn Collins). With the risk of your head exploding at this point, additional details (which only get increasingly more convoluted) aren't necessary - sufficed to say the script could have scaled back its attempts to ape the MIT course load.

When Disney attached Andrew Stanton to the project, there was a ton of heat taken by the 'WALL-E' helmer but the Pixar vet renders that discussion moot - what's on the screen is a straight up hoot. When Carter comes to rescue the princess on his flying Ski-Doo, I swore I heard echos of Freddie Mercury in the theater. The battle scenes are positively electric, one scene in particular is brilliantly shot - Carter single-handedly slaughtering hundreds of beasts as Stanton simultaneously intersperses memories of Carter's own personal tragedy back on Earth - breathtaking filmmaking.

Much has been made of the film's reported $250 million budget after passing from studio to studio for the better part of thirty years but don't let the naysayers (as I once was) deceive you - this is not the second coming of 'Waterworld'. Whether it shocks the box office or suffers a nasty demise, 'John Carter' can't be faulted for its incessant effort to entertain. How's this for final praise: 'John Carter' is more thrilling than 'Avatar' and infinitely less pretentious.