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John Carter is more than just an action film at its heart

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A movie like John Carter, presented by Disney and directed by Andrew Stanton, can be a tough sell to audiences, if you can get them in the theater. A science fiction, fantasy film based on the story A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film succeeds on many levels, despite a poor advertising campaign.


Once on Mars, known by the natives as Barsoom, (get ready to keep up with these odd names) Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, discovers the planets weaker gravity gives him the ability to jump really far and high, as well as proportionately more strength -- luxuries the Martians do not have.


The fish-out-of-water is quickly caught up in the native war between the human-looking people of Helium and the bad guys from Zodanga with a more primitive race of green Martians on the periphery known as the Tharks.


Leader of the Tharks, Tars Tarkas, voiced by Willem Defoe, befriends Carter who saves the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris, played by Lynn Collins. She slowly wears down Carters weariness for war and he takes up the good fight to save the people of Helium from certain destruction at the hands of Zodangas leader, Sab Than (Dominic West) and evil mastermind Matai Shang (Mark Strong).


If space operas or epic fantasy films arent your cup of tea, you might choose to avoid Carter as it is filled with green aliens; awkward names and humans we are expected to believe are actually Martians because theyre red.


However, the value of Carter is far beyond the high-flying (or jumping) action scenes and big-budget effects, of which there is plenty. The film contains a strong and interesting narrative that caught my attention quickly and left me wondering why the advertisements didnt show more details besides the titular hero leaping and fighting.


While Carter is welcomed into the Thark society after displaying his powers, he is urged by Princess Thoris to help her save the peaceful people of Helium. Carter is a weary character, often quite dreary, as hes suffered through the Civil War and the toll it took on his family.


Hes reluctant to get caught up in fighting for a cause but eventually succumbs to the realization of what greater evil is afoot in the conflict between Helium and Zodanga and his love for Thoris.


Kitsch gives a decent performance as Carter, varying from an oddball treasure seeker, to a wealthy man, a tired veteran of war and a powerful leader. Carters character goes through an emotional roller coaster throughout the film, which for a movie billed as an action romp, was a welcome surprise.


The film and titular hero reach an emotional climax about three-fourths of the way when Carter faces down an insurmountable army bearing down on innocent victims. He leaps into battle single-handedly, driven by the tragic fate of his family and the reminder that he was too late, once to save those he loved.


Carter is actually full of heart and emotion at its core, whether its Carters flashbacks to his wife and child on earth, to his growing love for Thoris or his sympathy for Thark outcast Sola, voiced by Samantha Morton.


The film is also packed with complex characters and unfortunate stereotypes, which is the case in most action films. Regrettably, bad guy Sab Than is all bad and fits the mold of bad guys wanting to rule the world. However, Shangs group of evildoers has enough mystery to them to hold weight.


While Carters journey is the focus of the film, supporting character Tars Tarkas is incredibly fascinating and given genuine life and weight by Defoe in his voice acting. The relationship between Tarkas and outcast Sola, is not only a deep plot thread, but also intricate to Carter overcoming his cynicism.


Thoris is the typical princess forced to marry against her will, who is capable of handling herself in a fight and finds her love and savior in Carter.


If some of the characters sound familiar, its because Burroughs novels were a large source of inspiration for George Lucass Star Wars films as well as other science fiction pictures over the years. Its a shame a movie as good as Carter could possibly leave people saying, the princess was such a rip off of Princess Leia from Star Wars.


The film also raised eyebrows with a $250 million budget, but the scenery, characters, costumes, special effects and the fact that multiple eras of time are displayed, Id say it was $250 million well-spent.


However, I would advise you to not give too much attention to trailers for this film as thats my largest complaint. I will admit I had little interest in seeing Carter until reading the basic plot of the novels.


The trailers bill this as a sword-swinging action film with what appears to be little substance. That could not be furthest from the truth. Carter is a without a doubt an action film but bolsters that action alongside a complex and suspenseful plot that sets up future sequels quite well.


The movie also accompanies the action and character interactions with honest humor that avoids anything campy or hokey. Carter has plenty to offer an array of audiences, but its just too bad Disney focused on what appeared to be a small demographic for their advertising campaign.


Ill be checking out the series of novels, hopefully, sometime soon.


John Carter is playing at all local theaters, although mostly in 3D, and is rated PG-13 with a runtime of two hours, 17 minutes.


Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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