If you are making tongue-in-cheek Grand Guignol horror films, you don't need to be subtle. One of the pleasures of James McTeigue's thriller is how deliriously overcooked it is.
John Carter is billed as the "live action" debut of Andrew Stanton, the director of the Pixar hits WALL-E and Finding Nemo. In fact, this Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation (co-scripted by Stanton with the novelist Michael Chabon) is one of those motion-capture, CGI-driven affairs stuck in the purgatory between live action and animation.
The former male model Taylor Kitsch is the Confederate officer whisked to Mars from Civil War-era America. Surprisingly for a Pixar alumnus, Stanton has a heavy directorial touch. The set-pieces are spectacular. The early, earthbound scenes, in which we're introduced to the grief-stricken Carter, play like something out of Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Battles on the ground and in the air, and scenes of gladiatorial combat, are staged with élan. However, it's hard to give a human dimension to a film in which half the protagonists look like giant grasshoppers. Kitsch's Carter is a B-movie creation from the Conan the Barbarian school of action heroes. Lynn Collins is very game as the beautiful warrior princess he falls for. In the end, though, there isn't enough humour or levity to counter the often horribly portentous dialogue and Wagnerian pomp with which the film-makers tackle their material.
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