Without question, the biggest release at the multiplex this weekend will be Disney’s John Carter, the big screen, 3D adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic sci-fi novel series John Carter of Mars. The epic scale of the film is matched only by its immense and diverse cast. Along with a number of recognizable acting veterans, John Carter also features a plethora of stars on the rise. Here are a few notables…
Why not start with the star of the film, eh? Taylor Kitsch, who plays our planet-hopping hero, gleans a lot of attention amongst Austin film and TV geeks for his work on the series Friday Night Lights; based on the 2004 film by Peter Berg. Though born in British Colombia, Kitsch perfectly captures the personality and mannerisms of Texas high school football player Tim Riggins with an added, fascinating edge. The series is filmed here in town. Kitsch has also made his mark on the superhero genre by appearing in Marvel’s 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While I won’t defend the merits of the film itself, Thor knows it was far from Marvel’s best, I would like to see Kitsch’s Gambit character fleshed out a bit more. Rémy LeBeau was easily my favorite X-Men, and it was unfortunate that the only attention paid to him by the franchise was Kitsch’s brief cameo in this less-than-stellar entry.
From a Texas adoptee to a true Texas native, the gorgeous Lynn Collins plays the love interest in John Carter. She plays a Martian princess called Dejah Thoris whose beauty, grace, and adeptness with a sword will not leave your consciousness even long after you leave the theater. Coincidentally, Collins also appeared in Marvel’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine; playing Logan’s girlfriend Kayla Silverfox. More likely however, you’ll probably recognize Lynn Collins from her five-episode stint as the unfortunate Dawn in the first season of HBO’s sexalicious vampire series True Blood. She also appeared in 2009’s Blood Creek with Michael Fassbender and 2006’s Bug alongside Ashley Judd; two films we highly recommend.
John Carter runs into many strange and interesting characters during his time on the red planet. One such character is the very sympathetic Sola, a female member of the Tharks (a bizarre, green, four-armed race). Though her name may not immediately ring any bells or recall a face, Samantha Morton, who elegantly voices Sola, has been lending her impressive talents to movies and television since the early 90s. After some television work in her native England, including an appearance on the popular BBC series Cracker, Morton appeared in the 1999 Woody Allen comedy Sweet and Lowdown. But arguably her biggest break came when she co-starred in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report alongside Tom Cruise. Morton played the female telepath Agatha who becomes the key to helping Cruise’s hero solve a decades-old mystery. Morton has since appeared in films such as In America, The Libertine, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
When one is facing all manner of aliens, beasts, and humanoid aggressors, it pays to have a skilled warrior by one’s side. Luckily, John Carter allied himself with the skilful and cunning Kantos Kan; a captain of the army of Helium. Portraying Kan is the very talented British actor James Purefoy. Purefoy appeared in several films, among them A Knight’s Tale, Resident Evil, and Vanity Fair, before landing the role of Mark Anthony in HBO’s celebrated series Rome. But if you only seek out one project on Purefoy’s resume, I highly recommend his 2009 actioner Solomon Kane. In the film, based on a comic book by >Conan the Barbarian creator Robert E. Howard, Purefoy plays the titular antihero who sells his soul to the devil and then lives his life trying to win it back through various acts of valor. The film is every bit as exciting and spectacular as a major Hollywood superhero film on a budget a fraction of the size.
Rounding out our list of John Carter’s talent pool is the stunning Polly Walker. Walker lends her voice and movements to the treacherous Sarkoja, another member of the Thark race. A native of Cheshire, England, Walker is a seasoned veteran of some of the most notable television series on both sides of the pond. Walker appeared in the 2003 British political thriller series State of Play, which was re-imagined as a film in 2009 starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, as well as HBO’s Rome and SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica. In addition, Walker appeared as the lovely Cassiopeia in 2010’s Clash of the Titans.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Rather than going to the well for another X-Men sequel Hugh Jackman’s mutant Wolverine has been spun off into an uneven prequel that tries to explain the character’s origins but somehow misses what we liked about him in the first place. X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens with a flashback to 150 years ago which unveils the relationship between Logan and Victor mutant half-brothers who are forced to run away from home after Logan murders their biological father. After several scenes depicting the brothers’ service in various wars the story settles in around the 1970s where both Victor and Logan are recruited by the devious William Stryker to serve in a mutant army. But Logan spurns Stryker after taking part in a massacre in East Africa and chooses instead to settle down with his girlfriend Kayla Silverfox in the Canadian Rockies. Six years later Victor now Sabretooth shows up and kills her. Logan now Wolverine seeks revenge reluctantly making a deal with Stryker in order to become indestructible. Unfortunately he is double-crossed and uncovers a Stryker/Sabretooth plot to kidnap mutants and use them for no good. He escapes and the chase is on as he tries to stop them — and anyone else in his way — before his memory is erased.
WHO’S IN IT?
It’s the buffed-up Jackman’s show all the way as Wolverine graduates to star status — and that’s exactly the problem. It turns out a little of this guy goes a long way especially when he’s presented in as humorless and unimaginative a manner as the deadly serious approach taken by Hugh (who also co-produced). Jackman acquits himself nicely in the numerous action scenes but fails to make a lasting human connection for Wolverine and the audience. Liev Schreiber is good as Sabretooth but plays it mostly on one note. His three fight scenes opposite Jackman are well-choreographed but become tiring. Danny Huston makes a fine heavy as the evil Stryker while Lynn Collins is lovely as Silverfox adding a nice touch of emotion to this mostly stoic CGI-fest. A promising new group of mutants are also introduced but unfortunately aren't given much to do. Standouts are Ryan Reynolds as the smart-talking Wade Wilson aka Deadpool; rapper will.i.am as John Wraith; and Kevin Durand as the humungous Fred J. Dukes aka The Blob. Durand is especially impressive in a boxing gym scene. Conversely Lost’s Dominic Monaghan receives too little screen time in the role of Bradley.
Wolverine’s CGI effects are predictably top-notch and a couple of big action set pieces are visually arresting including a motorcycle/helicopter chase that may lack credibility but is at least fun to watch.
Lighten up Wolvie. Jackman and everyone else seem to be taking this stuff way too seriously. The humanity that was a hallmark of the previous X-Men films also is largely AWOL and the picture takes a long time to get going. We’re at the 40-minute mark before the claws really start to come out and the psychological mumbo-jumbo stops.
In the lab Stryker promises to make a revenge-seeking Wolverine indestructible but his double-crossing antics only serve to unleash severe rage inspiring great balls of mutant fury as the furious mutant makes his great escape — sans clothing.
WHY YOU SHOULD SIT THROUGH SEVEN MINUTES OF END CREDITS?
For those who think the movie effectively ends when the credits roll here is a “heads up” to hang around.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Since reportedly about 100 000 people downloaded a rough cut when Wolverine was illegally pirated a few weeks ago why not help out poor 20th Century Fox and see it the legal way on the big screen? It’s a big improvement over your iMac.