A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Carter is a swashbuckling inter-planetary adventure based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' first book in the John Carter series, A Princess of Mars. There's an underlying romance to most of the story, but it's the movie's violence that might alarm parents of younger tweens. It's prevalent throughout the film and gets gory in a couple of scenes -- like when John (played by Taylor Kitsch) bursts through the body of a giant Martian monster he's just killed or decapitates a tyrannous warlord. Despite John Carter's war-like violence, none of the "good guys" die (although they're shot at, injured, and even tortured). Plus, there are a couple of strong female characters, and an overriding message that there's a particular honor to being selfless, even if it puts your own life in danger.
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What's the story?
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' book series, JOHN CARTER follows the titular hero (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War veteran who lost his wife and child to the war; all he wants to do is find gold in the Arizona territory. After a run-in with Army officers and a band of Apaches, John Carter finds a gold-filled cave, where he kills a mysterious figure whose magical amulet transports him all the way to Mars. Once on Mars, John is quickly discovered by the nomadic Tharks -- a group of giant green Martians who call him "Virginia." John Carter quickly becomes enmeshed in a battle to help a Martian princess (Lynn Collins) whom he rescued on her mission to save her homeland of Helium against invaders guided by a nefarious shape-shifting cabal of time travelers called Therns.
Is it any good?
Let's start with the obvious: Kitsch definitely looks like an action star, but he's also a reluctant, laid-back protagonist. He's not exactly brimming with the charisma and gravitas of other epic heroes (most of whom, from Aragorn to Maximus, are obviously alluded to in Carter). But Carter's broody personality and longing gazes are a good fit for Kitsch, who memorably starred in TV's beloved Friday Night Lights. The chemistry between Kitsch and Collins -- whose princess Dejah Thoris is fiercely intelligent and brave, as well as beautiful -- will keep teen girls entertained while also proving that not all damsels in distress are useless when it comes to defending themselves.
John Carter's slightly involved story isn't a tightly woven point-A to point-B journey; it's more like The Odyssey, with Carter having to overcome seemingly never-ending obstacles before he and Dejah Thoris proclaim their love and save Barsoom from evil machinations. Character actors James Purefoy and Mark Strong (Hollywood's go-to villain, having apparently inherited the mantle from fellow Brit Ian McShane) stand out in their performances, and many of the best lines are from the giant Tharks, voiced by Samantha Morton and Willem Dafoe. With its impressive 3D and interesting period-meets-interplanetary story line, this is a fun, if not Lord of the Rings-brilliant, saga.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the hero's journey -- how does John Carter grow to accept that his destiny is on Mars? What makes him eventually feel at home in Barsoom? What other swashbuckling heroes is he like?
Some say that John Carter relies too heavily on elements from other movie franchises. What portions of the story remind you of other sci-fi tales? What parts make it unique? And is it fair to make those claims when the stories that inspired John Carter predate the movies?
Does the movie make you interested in checking out the books it's based on? Do you think the ending sets up the movie for a sequel?
- In theaters: March 9, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: June 5, 2012
- Cast: Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe
- Director: Andrew Stanton
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of violence and action
- Last updated: June 13, 2020
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