John Carter review

Fun but forgettable sci-fi fare

John Carter (of Mars) has plenty to like - but is so long and formulaic that you'll struggle to remember what it was when the credits roll.

The hype…
Pixar's Andrew Stanton turns to live-action filmmaking in this adaptation of a classic sci-fi by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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The story…
Former military man John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is tired of fighting, and sets out to join the gold rush in the wilds of the newly-formed USA. But a shock encounter in a dusty cave sees him transported to the even dustier world of Barsoom, or as we know it, Mars.

There he encounters the giant, four-armed natives who are impressed with his jumping prowess (a product of the red planet's weaker gravity), and keen to rope him in as one of their warriors. He's not keen on the idea, but when he comes across Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) he is sucked into an even bigger conflict.

Now he must decide how committed he is to his newfound pacifism and, indeed, to his former homeworld of Earth.

The breakdown…
Burroughs' tale is packed with sci-fi tropes that have inspired filmmakers for generations. His amalgamation of sci-fi invention, Wild West action and colonial drama make for fertile filmic territory. So of course as you sample the delights of Stanton's adaptation you'll taste flavours from 'Avatar', 'Pocahontas' and even 'Star Wars'.

It's not an unpleasant experience, and there's plenty going on. From the grand scale of the fight to save Barsoom from all-out war to the simple pleasures of a giant, loyal, six-legged dog. The sheer volume of stuff going on should keep younger members of the audience sitting still for its somewhat excessive 130-minute duration.

It does frequently struggle to get to the point though. One minute the gruff Earthling seems to be attempting to save a noble native from the primitive traditions of the tribe, the next he's defending the planet's resources from a scurrilous society, and then he's pining for the gold mines of the USA.

Still, Taylor Kitsch does hold it together with his persistently stubborn and stoic character. He doesn't exactly exude charisma, but he keeps the tone of Carter constant as his moral code slowly becomes evident through his many and varied battles.

Meanwhile, Lynn Collins shows herself surprisingly skilled at balancing the feisty, intelligent and, of course, sexy sides of Dejah Thoris; and Mark Strong is as evil as ever in his role as the arch villain behind Barsoom's conflicts.

They don't have much depth to their characters, each being broadly confined to one primary objective that adds to the many demanding attention from busy Mr. Carter's schedule, but all serve their purpose well.

If only Stanton and his fellow screenwriters Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon had been more focussed, and perhaps a little more discerning in their plotting, they could have developed a few characters and created a pulsing tale of unwitting space heroism. As it is, it's an entertaining but somewhat muddled jaunt through a myriad of sci-fi characters and conventions.

The verdict…
Packed with high-octane sci-fi fun, and lo-octane, multi-faceted, Mars-based drama, 'John Carter' covers so much ground that it's hard not to find something to like in there. But it's so buried underneath the many and various elements that it's hard to take a lot from this.

Rating: 2.5/5

'John Carter'  is due to be released in the UK on 9 March 2012. Certificate: 12A.