First hearing about a big new Hollywood flick called John Carter, my thought was: “What, a big-screen tribute to the late, great, and underrated jazz clarinetist? Maybe there is hope for American cultural priorities yet.” Alas, no, it’s not that John Carter, but John Carter of Virginia, and could-be John Carter of Mars. The 19th-century Civil War veteran and gold seeker — he of long hair and beard and a fearsome, fighting spirit — finds himself transported in space, language, and gravitational liberties in this actually quite entertaining and outlandish little epic blockbuster romp.
Based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs story from his epic Barsoom series, and pumped up with enough interplanetary plotlines to allow for sequel-timing should the box-office receipts prevail, John Carter feeds off of clichés and formulaic ideas and taps into past films as varied as The Wizard of Oz and Starship Troopers — and director Andrew Stanton’s classic WALL·E — along the way. But it manages to be a rousing and strange film, a mutant-genre concoction with retro-futurist blends of swashbuckling swordplay and higher-tech weaponry (including the faux-nuclear power of the “ninth ray”), and rickety old rifles in the hands of gangly aliens (four hands each, in fact).
At the core of the wild and scenically phantasmagorical tale is a wannabe, romantically magnetized love story between our displaced planetary hobo (played by the suitably named Taylor Kitsch, with limited acting chops but enough for the gig) and the lovely and kick-ass “Princess of Mars,” with an English accent (Lynn Collins, superior in the acting-chops department). Incidental secondary themes include bellicose factions threatening to bring a planet to its civil and ecological knees, and the possibility of tolerance between different types of beings, say the four-armed species known as the Tharks and the human-esque citizens of Helium.
John Carter is your not-so-basic cowboy gladiatorial sci-fi wartime epic, in 2- or 3-D, according to taste. Touché.