"John Carter" is about a Wild West gunslinger who is transported to Mars, where there's a civil war and everyone wears a ton of eye liner.
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' sci-fi novels about Carter, the film boasts a mix of adventure and campy humor that is entertaining for stretches of time but doesn't hold together very well. Partly, that's a taste thing. I tend to tune out on a movie about the time it introduces a second mythical special-effects kingdom. And partly, that's because the unwieldy script keeps sputtering to a stop. Just when we think we've followed Carter to the conclusion of his pulpy adventures, it turns out there's more and more and more.
Taylor Kitsch is great as Carter, who's a little bit Harry Houdini, a little bit Indiana Jones. Kitsch gives him a sharp combo of braggadocio, self-deprecation and wit that keeps us interested even when Carter's involvement in the civil war and his will-they-or-won't-they romance seem to be going nowhere on Barsoom, the local name for the planet we call Mars.
It's hard to get invested in the warfare on Mars because even Carter isn't invested in it. The film has him rising to the occasion for periodic battles with enormous apes and a shape-shifting bad guy played by Mark Strong, Hollywood's current go-to British villain. But there's little sense of what drives Carter or what he wants, other than the pile of gold he left back in 19th-century America.
But I don't mean to be too hard on "John Carter." It
gets more careless as it goes, so it ends on a sour note, but it's always watchable. And it gets off to a great start in the first 45 minutes, when director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") tells the story with minimal dialogue and maximum-impact visuals.
Given the episodic nature of "John Carter," you could divide it into three chunks of roughly 45 minutes each (oh, it's also too long), the first of which is great, the second not bad and the third pretty good.
Movie critic Chris Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5552. Follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Mark Strong, Lynn Collins
Rated: PG-13, for violence
Should you go? Sure. I liked it, and if you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan, you'll probably like it even more. **1/2