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Movie review: John Carter

Our movie critic Robert Burleson checked out "John Carter" over the weekend.

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John Carter in Disney Digital 3D
Robert Burleson

John Carter is a pulp story that was first released as a book in 1911. It was one of the earliest science fiction stories to gain real popularity. It is the story of a hero helping a princess save her people, which may seem cliché by today’s standards, but was a fresh idea for its time. Carter was one of the earliest superheroes. He arrives on a strange faraway planet and is given superhuman powers.

What does this have to do with the new Disney movie, “John Carter,” you may ask? I think it is something to be considered before comparing this solid entertaining film to some of today’s blockbuster releases.

"John Carter" was directed by Andrew Stanton, whose previous films include the great Pixar movies, “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E."

Stanton does a great job with the imagery of a film set on a planet that is covered by a desert. The aliens and humans who inhabit the world are a sight to see. The main alien race is the Tharks – 12-foot tall, four-armed green aliens with tusks. They are the first characters to befriend Carter. The interaction between these CG characters and their human counterparts work and is believable. Willem Dafoe supplies the voice to the Thark leader, Tars Tarkas. Dafoe embodies the character with a real life and is fun to watch.

Overall, the performances are well done. I have been a fan of Taylor Kitsh, who plays the title character, since his days on TV's “Friday Night Lights." While it’s not a spellbinding performance, I still enjoyed and believed him.

The two human villains are portrayed by Mark Strong and Dominic West. Strong is good at playing intimidating characters, which he showcased in the first “Sherlock Holmes” film. His character in “John Carter” is that of a super powerful, evil overseer. West plays the general trying to take over Mars. He isn’t given much to do other than stand around menacingly, which is kind of a waste.

My favorite performance in the film has to go to Lynn Collins as the princess, Dejah Thoris. Not just the damsel in distress, Collins portrays the princess as a smart and strong character, leading the naive Carter on his journey.

Overall, I had a very positive experience with the film. The movie is a tad long at just over two hours, and the story has a few plot holes that my friends and I debated on the drive home. But we all agreed the film was a fun popcorn flick, which is why I wanted to give a short history of John Carter before I talked about the film. Many of the things in the film may seem like old news to today’s audiences. We have seen aliens. We have seen a man who can jump like a spider. One key scene in an arena where John is fighting for his life seems like it came right out of a "Star Wars" movie. That is because George Lucas probably read John Carter comics, or something like it, in his youth.

Audiences need to remember that this story predates most current stories and enjoy the ride, even if some parts of the story seem a little familiar. It’s a good film to start off the blockbuster season.

3 out 5 stars


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