Captain John Carter of the Confederate Army lost more than his nascent country's struggle against federal tyranny, he also lost his entire family to the ravages of the war. Burned to a charcoaled crisp, left rotting for the Captain to find them, Carter moved on without a thought of ever returning to duty. Instead he sought adventure and riches in the hope they would bring him some measure of solace. After the war the Union army attempted to recruit him to fight the Apache tribes of the American Southwest. Unfortunately for them Carter fights his own battles now (we have caught up in grammatical tense).
It seems that despite being regarded as a lunatic, Carter has indeed found a veritable gold mine in the desert. While escaping from a charge brought on by both the military and the Natives, our hero-to-be is transported through an intergalactic portal to Mars. Evidently, circa 1866 Mars (given the sobriquet Barsoom by the author of John Carter stories) had been a lively planet though ravaged by severe water and air shortages.
Mars may be thriving when John Carter arrives but it is also in the process of being ravaged by warfare and by the most sinister scheming imaginable. Carter's first memory of Mars is realizing his bone density is Earth friendly and Mars antagonistic. Simply put HE CAN FLY like Michael Jordan! John Carter can jump to unfathomable heights like Superman. He is effectively weightless. The first aliens Carter encounters are the Green men of Mars that have four arms, a hierarchical social structure and rather effective weaponry. Their leader is Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), a brave and dynamic guardian of his people. His daughter Sarkoja (Polly Walker) is something of a trouble maker in their village. She is on the verge of permanent excoriation on account of her willful behavior. Tars and Sarkoja become Carter's staunchest allies.
Meanwhile, across the planet, a beautiful princess (Samantha Morton as Sola) and her people are suffering. A trio of shape-shifting immortals led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong) is trying to destroy Mars by inciting warfare among its peoples. Princess Sola's people are on the verge of total defeat when she discovers the secret to her enemies' blue energy. In disguise Matai thwarts her demonstration of the newfound technology's power. This causes Sola's father to declare their surrender. His daughter is ordered to marry their enemy's leader Sab Than (Dominic West). Sab is in cahoots with the master puppeteer Matai.
During one of Sola's skirmishes with Sab Than and his followers, John Carter intervenes and the entire planet erupts into its own game of thrones if you will. Though Carter has flashbacks of his deceased wife when near Sola, this does not stop him from falling madly in love with the most beautiful woman in the history of Barsoom, the Martian princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Their relationship almost feels like density, I mean destiny. All the while, John Carter has been followed...by what passes for a Martian doggy! This is no ordinary doggie, this is a massive pet with three rows of razor sharp teeth and he travels faster than the eyes can see. He is twice as devoted as any pet I have ever had. This is typical Disney awe-shucks pandering but I love it.
There is one more wrinkle that needs to be addressed. Writer/Director Andrew Stanton brilliantly weaves together John Carter's story as though Edgar Rice Burroughs is his nephew. Burroughs wrote Tarzan of the Apes and short stories about the heroic earthling John Carter on Mars. Burroughs constructed these tales after being discharged from the United States cavalry's 7th division on account of a heart condition. Andrew Stanton accounts for so much of Burroughs' authorship as well as his real life adventures/travails. Weaving together so many crisscrossing storylines is an impressive feat.
Curmudgeonly pundits be damned for Disney's John Carter is nothing short of amazing and its star Taylor Kitsch makes a wonderful impression on audiences. Sure, it reeks of an alien version of Prince of Persia but who really cares? The end result is a romping good time a la the magicians at Disney. Disney films never cease to amaze me, they only get better with time and technology. Kudos to them for reinventing the wheel dozens of times over.
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