- Running time:
- 132 minutes
- Taylor Kitsch -
- John Carter
- Lynn Collins -
- Princess Dejah Thoris
- Willem Dafoe -
- Tars Tarkas
- Samantha Morton -
- Ciarán Hinds -
- Tardos Mors
After the wondrous WALL?E and the charming Finding Nemo, it's a shame that director Andrew Stanton turned his sights to live action with John Carter (** out of four; rated PG-13; opens nationwide Friday).
Though the project, based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel A Princess of Mars, is ambitious, it's also bloated, dreary and humorless. It's tedious even during its frantic action scenes, many of which also involve computer-generation and performance-capture technology.
The characters are one-dimensional, even in 3-D, which is gimmicky and unnecessary here. Taylor Kitsch does his best with the lackluster Carter character, but his acting was more impressive as a teenage football star on TV's Friday NightLights.
A former Civil War soldier, Carter stumbles upon a cave with gold deposits while being chased by Apaches in Arizona. What he discovers turns out to be rarer than the finest ore: a medallion that transports him to Mars.
He is haunted by a tragic personal loss, presented in dreamy flashbacks. One can draw inferences, but it's hard to be invested in his predicaments based on the scant information revealed about his character.
Carter lands on a barren landscape and meets the Tharks, tall, spindly green-skinned creatures with four arms and two legs (performed by Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Willem Dafoe and others). There's a gangly Jar Jar Binks quality to these aliens, who are tough to tell apart. In fact, parts of the film feel like pale imitations of Star Wars movies.
Carter is captured by the Tharks, who are suspicious of his jumping. His flying leaps are a result of the change in gravity, and he uses that ability to get out of life-threatening jams.
The action switches awkwardly to a political skirmish that mostly involves the Red Martian Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins) and her father, the King of Helium (Ciarán Hinds), who has agreed to marry her off to the treacherous Sab Than (Dominic West).
One of the screenwriters is Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), but his literary talents are not visible. There's a sword-and sandals-feel to the film, even on Mars, where there should be a sense of wonder. When Carter finds himself able to bound skyward, director Stanton shows him repeatedly struggling to stay on the ground, stumbling in near-flight. There is little sense of the bewilderment and fascination that would accompany navigating that strange terrain.
The villains are overwrought and the design of Mars is surprisingly bland. It doesn't say much for the production design — or the arc of this lackluster tale — when the well-chiseled abs of the lead actor and his romantic interest are the most awe-inducing elements.
Movie theaters and showtimes for John Carter in Des Moines.