Friday, March 09, 2012

Martian mystique

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 sci-fi novel hero is reinterpreted a hundred years later in Disney’s “John Carter,” about an American ex-soldier who finds himself instantly transported to Mars (or Barsoom, as its inhabitants call it).

The characters have gotten various comic book reboots and translations through the decades; some of the most striking re-imaginings are illustrator Frank Frazetta’s sexier versions. Populated by different sentient races, Mars has cultures with earth-like characteristics, as seen in its ongoing war and gladiatorial duels. The main character’s basically the quintessential fish out of water, its inspiration felt in subsequent DC comic characters Travis Morgan and Adam Strange.

The film’s John Carter (Taylor Kitsch from “Wolverine”) is a former soldier who refuses to choose sides, but after fleeing warring forces on Earth, the natural fighter and swordsman discovers an object that teleports him (or more specifically, his essence) to Mars. Gaining exceptional physical prowess on the planet, he picks a side in a war orchestrated by enigmatic beings. He allies himself with the wise princess Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins, also from “Wolverine”) and some warriors from the multi-armed Thark people.

Barsoom’s various terrains look heavily inspired by “Star Wars,” which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but more imaginative imagery could've been utilized. Still, the effects are spectacular and the visuals impress, although there are creature and costume designs that are pretty uninspired.

Kitsch as Carter is just adequate; you’d ultimately wish the actor had a wider range. Collins as Deja Thoris is good, but her character’s quite typical; it’s funny that she was rescued by Carter three times, and has to overcompensate by showing off her swordfighting skills almost immediately after.

Despite the flaws and repetitiveness, it’s still a pretty watchable and effects-heavy sci-fi epic, and an interesting iteration of the iconic fantasy hero.

“John Carter” opens today, March 9, in Metro Manila. 

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