I went into this film not expecting much, as none of the film’s 3 main trailers particularly wowed me. I was expecting another Prince of Persia, in that it would be a fun adventure, but nothing special. And that’s exactly what John Carter was. However, I did not expect to feel so nostalgic watching this. The modern nature of filmmaking is abundantly clear in the film. The state-of-the-art effects look incredible for the flying craft, and the race of Tharks (a four-armed 10ft tall green-skinned warrior race which remind you of Avatar‘s Navi), and the presence of two of Hollywood’s most seen stars of recent years (Mark Strong from The Guard, Black Gold, Green Lantern, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, etc), and Ciaran Hinds (from Ghost Rider 2 and The Woman In Black in the past month alone, and also Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
The nostalgia, however, comes in the familiar story-line. Towards the start of the film we see John Carter as a moody and unsociable soul in the old west, which soon brings to mind Daniel Craig in last year’s Cowboys And Aliens (as does the scene where John Carter awakes on Mars later in the film holding a piece of alien-tech and in the middle of rocky desert terrain). When on Mars, John Carter is treated like an outsider, held captive, learns of the societies there who are at war, meets a beautiful and scantily clad princess, unites former enemies against a common foe, and eventually saves the planet from the evil plans of a bunch of blue-eyed mystics pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Sound familiar? For me there were moments of Flash Gordon (the Queen-soundtracked 1980 film), Buck Rogers (the Gil Gerard/Glen Larson Battlestar-sister from 1979), with moments of Dune, and He-Man, Star Wars, (even Ewoks: Battle for Endor with the inclusion of a dog-like creature that can run incredibly fast).
There are also moments of Lawrence of Arabia in the way the warring tribes take to Carter, as well as desert settings. Yet, this film doesn’t ruin fond childhood memories, as some of the more recent remakes and sequels of classic TV shows and films have done. Instead it feels more like a fun nod-of-the-cap, as if to suggest that the architect of all those fun shows and series was a piece written by Edgar Rice Burroughs published 100 years ago in 1912, entitled A Princess Of Mars from which this film was based. Indeed, it was also funny to see Edgar Rice Burroughs as a character in the film (played by Spy Kids‘ Daryl Sabara) who’s Uncle is the titular John Carter, and has left him his estate (and the film’s Martian story) in a journal in his will.
The acting is great from some of the main principles (though the central performance from Taylor Kitsch was a little flat, especially in his reaction to discovering he’s on Mars, and from hs delivery he appears no more in awe of that fact than if he’d got off the train at a station too late and found himself a town over or something).
The action set pieces were good, though all too brief. The female lead, Lynn Collins also looked stunning as Dejah Thoris, and reminded me of several early teen crushes on Princess Ardala (from Buck Rogers) and Princess Aura (from Flash Gordon). Dominic West also made a good villain. I hope this means he won’t get typecast following this, and his villainous turn as Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone. The dialogue, in parts came across as cheesy, for example during a battle between two sky-ships, when the good guy’s ship appears to be vulnerable a crew man at the helm of the bad guy’s ship asks Dominic West “Shall we destroy them, sir?“, in a moment that felt very corny and more like a 50s serial where you expect Fairy liquid bottle rockets with sparklers for thrusters. Yet, oddly this still had its charm in conjuring up that image in my mind.
In conclusion, this is a fun and enjoyable way to spend 2 hours. Pure escapist fun, and one which should remind you (certainly if you were from a certain generation) of so many TV, comic book, and film heroes which followed. Avoid the 3D if possible and save that extra £1 or £2.
3 out of 5 stars.