Though “John Carter” predates Edgar Rice Burroughs' “Tarzan”, he took 100 years to come on screen. The wait is worth it as this origin film, while not wildly original, offers enough guilty pleasure to keep you engrossed.
“John Carter” appeared in print in serial form in a pulp magazine in 1912. A civil war veteran, Carter lands up on Mars, or Barsoom as the locals call it, and has all kinds of hair-raising adventures. The story was published as a book five years later under the title “The Princess of Mars”. The film, directed by Andrew Stanton is an origin story, based on this book, the first of 12 Burroughs wrote in the Barsoom series.
The movie opens with a young Edgar Rice Burroughs visiting his uncle's solicitor. His uncle, the mysterious, John Carter, is dead and along with detailed and rather strange burial instructions has left Burroughs a journal that tells a wild and wondrous tale of his adventures on Mars.
Canadian model Taylor Kitsch plays Carter as an old school hero. He is very easy on the eye — like the book describes him, “broad of shoulder and narrow of hip”. Kitsch is charismatic and subscribes to the Mt. Rushmore School of Acting (Charlton Heston was one of its revered graduates).
Lynn Collins is bright and brittle as Dejah Thoris the Princess of Mars, while Mark Strong is the mysterious shape-shifting Matai Shang who has some secret axe to grind with dying planets. Strong who we last saw as the ill-fated Jim Prideaux in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has company from the same film in Ciarán Hinds (he was Roy Bland) who plays Tardos Mors, the lovely princess's papa. Willem Dafoe has lent his voice to the good Thark, Tars Tarkas.
The movie is very good looking and there are all the things we expect in this kind of films from the big gladiatorial battle in the dusty arena to delightful monsters, feisty princesses, teeth-gnashing villains and zooming space crafts. Everything is likeable about this film including the barsoomian dog, who despite being gigantic is very much like a friendly Labrador puppy.