INTENDED as the first instalment of an action-packed trilogy, John Carter is a fantastical and fantastically dull battle beyond the stars based on the novel A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Oscar-winning director Andrew Stanton, who collected golden statuettes for Finding Nemo and WALL-E, makes a lacklustre live action debut with this sprawling epic.
The miasma of digital effects, which hopes to emulate Avatar by immersing us in an eye-popping alien world, feel flat in 3D and the quality of the computer trickery doesn’t match the ambition of Stanton’s own script, co-written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon.
Like the monstrous white apes, which the eponymous hero fights in a gladiatorial setting reminiscent of the Rancor pit sequence from Return Of The Jedi, the film lumbers.
The bloated running time tests our patience, especially with so little to hold our attention on the screen.
Young Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) is summoned to the home of his beloved uncle and former Confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who has perished in mysterious circumstances.
Leafing through Carter’s cherished journal, Burroughs learns that his uncle sought sanctuary from Apaches in a cave and was magically transported to the Red Planet.
There, Carter was captured by the Tharks – a savage race of 15-feet-tall green warriors with tusks protruding from their mouths, who live in the deserts of Barsoom (the alien word for Mars).
Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and his plucky daughter Sola (Samantha Morton) attempted to protect Carter from power-hungry rivals Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church) and Sarkoja (Polly Walker).
Meanwhile, Matai Shang (Mark Strong), the leader of the Holy Therns, took charge of the planet’s destiny by orchestrating the marriage of Prince Sab Than (Dominic West) of Zodanga and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) of the besieged city of Helium.
The princess raged against the arranged nuptials, despite her father (Ciaran Hinds), and when Dejah captured a glimpse of Carter’s rippling chest, her rebellion intensified.
Opening with a computer-generated aerial battle in one of the sandstorms that rage across the surface of Mars, John Carter is a soulless spectacle.
Kitsch is devoid of charisma as the eponymous time-travelling soldier, who tips the balance of power in favour of the pacifist good guys by scything through hordes of computer-generated beasts. Strong and West are pantomime villains, and their comeuppance is swift and unsatisfying.
A convoluted race-against-time finale neatly tees up a second film in the series, but unless John Carter magically strikes box office gold, it’s doubtful his adventures will go any further than the closing credits here.