He’s “of Mars”, don’t you know? Still stung by the flop of Mars Needs Moms, Disney have clearly decided that “Mars” is a jinx. So have perversely laden their megabudget science fantasy romp with an unappealing, bland title.

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It’s a title that means nothing to anyone apart from Edgar Rice Burroughs aficionados or ladies of a certain age who still pine for the hunky good looks of Cliff Michelmore’s co-presenter on the Holiday programme.

After Tarzan, John Carter, a former Confederate soldier who finds himself transported to Mars while prospecting for gold in Apache territory, is Burroughs’s most famous creation.

Along with Flash Gordon, Carter’s 11-volume Martian adventures put in place most of the clichés of science fantasy adventures.

This is half of the problem – you’ve seen it all before.

The other half is that you’ve seen it all before, and done better. As this was the first live action film from Pixar master Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and Wall-e, hopes were high but he hasn’t matched the achievements of Brad Bird who made the same switch with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Some of the flying ships and the landscapes are nicely done but generally the visual effects and action sequences aren’t quite special enough.

The plot is an act of prodigious social climbing. Having materialised on Mars, new-in-town Carter takes stock of the situation – the war going on between two humanoid races that resemble Roman gladiators in Bollywood costumes and Maori face paint, further complicated by a race of giant alien savages and a group of interfering gods – and manages to rise to the level of suitor to a princess seemingly within a few days.

The film opens with a big splurge of exposition about Martian culture and throughout the film you are trying to catch up. The adaptors have made the basic error of trying to keep as much of the stuff they loved from the book in the screenplay. The result is a film crammed with inessential to-ing and fro-ing that takes far too long to get to straightforward and over-familiar confrontations and climaxes, while seeming to skip important parts of the story. It should be a richly enjoyable but straightforward bit of Buck Rogers fun but ends up as convoluted and po-faced as Dune.

JOHN CARTER (12A)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West and James Purefoy

Length: 130 mins

**

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