Wednesday, April 11, 2012


John Carter
March 9 , 2012
132 min

Directed by Andrew Stanton
Written by Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon
Based on the "The Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs

This anticipated epic from Pixar’s Andrew Stanton appears to have all the fixings for an action-packed science fiction/fantasy extravaganza. While it often delivers and occasionally surprises, “John Carter” also disappoints. It is bogged down with never-ending exposition, confounding plot points, and an anti-climactic conclusion. See it for some spectacle, but it’s not altogether spectacular.

"John Carter" (of Mars - they should've kept the full title) is one of the most expensive films ever made and, for the most part, it certainly looks it. Dragonfly-like airships battle over the dusty dunes of Mars. Armies of CGI aliens charge their uniquely-clad human opponents. Our title hero faces against a giant "white ape" in a gladiatorial-like fashion with an indigenous Mars race filling the stands. It is all a sight, but not necessarily a new one. Fellow blogger Scott Mendleson put it best when he said that “John Carter” looks like it’s ripping off all the films that ripped it off. He's referring to the fact that everything from "Star Wars" to "Avatar" was likely inspired by the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs penned nearly 100 years ago. We just haven't received a film adaptation until now.

Leads Taylor Kitsch (Carter) and Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris) give fine work here. He is a Civil War vet who finds himself a widower and winding up on Mars. She is a princess on that very red planet. That said, “John Carter” lacks a strong supporting cast that we find in spades throughout “The Lord of the Rings” and even the “Harry Potter” series. Perhaps so few performances can shine because they are constantly concerned with giving us the confusing details of affairs on Barsoom (Mars). It is not necessary to always show instead of tell in a film, but it is nice to stop telling once in a while. My own homeland of Southern Utah is used with pristine effect to portray Barsoom. A sequence that could only have been filmed at Lake Powell is particularly memorable. The film was not shot in 3D (why not?!) and so I sought it out in two-dimensional glory instead of the post-conversion that I was told to avoid.

Like last year’s “Cowboys & Aliens,” (which I actually prefer to "John Carter") this begins as an amusing Western and suddenly introduces the sci-fi, or fantasy rather. We even get an unmistaken-ably similar scene where Carter wakes up in the middle of the desert, confused, and accompanied by an alien artifact. The only difference here is that Carter's purported location.

The film has some funny moments. I recently listened to an interview with Stanton (on an episode of Filmspotting) where he expressed his desire to not shy away from potential humor. A random moment between two characters can go a long ways. Other times the movie goes for laughs with rather painful results.

What's a fantasy epic without identifiable set pieces? Those airships will astound and there's an arena alluded to and finally seen. I am far from the first to point this out, but you cannot watch the coliseum backdrop and not think of a similar setting in “Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” I've thought of it instantly since the initial trailer. That said, this scene ends with a moment that moved Carter up a few levels on the "Bad Ass Meter." Together with an earlier battle sequence where John Carter takes on an entire army by himself, these form the best (better) action scenes in the film. A final battle that takes place at a wedding hardly deserves to be called such. If the movie was ever building up to some action-packed climax, we never received it.

Near the end of the movie John Carter makes a shockingly bonehead decision: a simple action with a big consequence. This is made all the more unintentionally laughable when we hear Carter express how foolish he was for doing so just two minutes later (in screen time). I thought of Harry’s dimwitted decision to snap the Elder Wand in two and throw it off the bridge at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” Will these heroes ever learn?

The film un/wraps itself up with a bookending device and sets itself up for more. “Princess of Mars” was only the first of eleven books in the "Barsoom" series. With its somewhat poor return at the box office it is likely that we won't be seeing more. That's fine by me. "John Carter" is no “Avatar;" it doesn't change the face of cinema in any way (other than being one of the most expensive films ever made), but you just might find worthwhile moments along the arduous adventure.


CONTENT: intense sequences of action and violence

Updated 7.11.12


Galyn said...

Maybe too much CGI. I've only seen a preview and could hardly bare that.

Unknown said...

I saw it in 2D first, then 3D. I was also surprised and disappointed that it was not filmed in 3D but rather converted later. The conversion was terrible and half the time I didn't even notice a difference.

I enjoyed the adventure, but was not overwhelmed by it. The best scene for me was when John battled an entire army while scenes from his past are intercut. I thought that was effective.