Great focus on characters, but some plot points left unnoticed.
Back centuries before we ever went to the place with our Viking rovers and saw the landscape with our own eyes, Mars was a planet full of mystique for being much like our own, and many science fiction authors would capitalize upon this mystique for our early forays into interstellar travel. “A Princess of Mars
”, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, was one of those influential early science fiction tales. He went on to write a whole series based on the Martian adventures of the John Carter character, and the fantastical pulp-action yarns became very popular, working their influence on later personalities like George Lucas and James Cameron. It seems only fitting that there should finally be a Hollywood adaptation of the tale, even on its 100 year anniversary.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Cavalryman of some renown who served with the Confederates during the Civil War. After returning home to find his homestead razed and his family dead, he becomes a wandering vagabond, striking westward in search of gold. What he finds instead is a portal to Mars, where three races of aliens are at war with each other. Captured by the multi-limbed, green skinned Tharks, John’s exceptional strength and mobility in the lessened gravitational environment quickly makes him a commodity for potentially turning the tide of the war. His situation becomes more complicated when encounters the more human- like Princess of Helium (Lynn Collins), who is on the run from the enemy Prince Sab Than (Dominic West)’s attempt to end the war in his nation’s favor by marriage. John Carter is forced to decide where he stands in a world that is not his own, where his decision could ultimately hold the fate of everyone on Mars.
The film itself has many stylistic similarities with another film Disney did two years before, “Prince of Persia
”. This is the science-fiction side of the same action-fantasy coin, and the setting and prop work are just as excellently done, conveying an otherworldly living Mars that is both brutally hostile and delicately fragile, but also very believable in spite of what we know about the actual planet. The actors have a large hand in this, bringing each of their characters to life in their roles with a warmth and heart that is seldom seen in concept fantasy films like this. The director did an excellent job with developing each of the characters, growing them throughout the movies so that we learn their nuances and motivations which, in turn, drive the plot of the film. While the characters are lovingly realized and provide the film with its focus, there are a few problems within the plot itself that are never quite resolved or touched upon. For example, the Zodonga faction (the race of humans opposed to Helium) are blamed with ravaging the Martian world, something that they continue to do even with their planet on the brink of death, and no explanation for why is given. The Therns, a mysterious people mythical to the Martians and whose godlike powers drive the ancient technology that pulled Carter to Mars, are actively trying to manipulate events into Zodonga’s favor. The Thern leader, Matai Shang (Mark Strong) even admits at one point that they are trying to finish off Mars and insinuates that Earth would be next…but the reasons for their actions are never explained beyond vague hand waving about “maintaining an order”. Interestingly enough, the main character even calls them on this, but within the bounds of this story, more depth is never given to the Therns.