Dir: Andrew Stanton (2012, 132 min). Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Lynn Collins. Opens: March 8
This sprawling 3D adaptation of ‘A Princess of Mars’, the first in ‘Tarzan’ creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’s epic sci-fi series about a civil war soldier who travels to the red planet, has all the makings of a monumental folly. It was absurdly expensive (rumours suggest upwards of $250 million), stars no one you’ve ever heard of (the voice cast notwithstanding), is based on a property very few outside the geek community are familiar with, has a wildly convoluted storyline packed with silly names and outlandish locations, is saddled with one of the least exciting titles in recent memory and was directed by a relative newcomer getting his hands on a major live-action studio picture for the first time.
Taylor Kitsch is John, a reclusive ex-soldier who discovers a secret portal to the planet Mars – or Barsoom as it’s known in the local language. There he steps into the middle of a war between the forces of evil, led by preening conqueror Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga (Dominic West), and the forces of general decency, as represented by philosopher-scientist-princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).
Now, maybe there are legions of multiplex-goers to whom the words ‘Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga’ sound like a surefire bet – but it’s unlikely. And this is merely the tip of a hefty iceberg: chuck in some four-armed Tharks, some eight-legged Thoats and Mark Strong as an evil spirit and you’ve got an unholy mess. Luckily, thanks to some stunning visual design, a sense of wry humour and ‘Wall-E’ director Andrew Stanton’s knack with an action setpiece, it’s a very entertaining, unusual and loveable mess. ‘John Carter’ could be ‘Dune’ for the 21st century – or it could be the next ‘Avatar’. Only time will tell.