TITLE: John Carter
STARRING: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church
DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 132 minutes
RELEASE DATE: March 9, 2012
By Seth Miller
Staff Writer, Part-Time Ninja
I don’t know how I was able to do it, but I was able to pull myself away from playing Mass Effect 3 to go and see John Carter. I had heard about it and was familiar with the source material, but I wasn’t exactly going crazy for it. After seeing it, I can say that while it has some big problems, it is still an entertaining adventure that feels like a throwback to past films.
Haunted by his time as a soldier in the Civil War, John Carter (Kitsch) spends his days searching for a cave of gold to make his fortune. While on the run from the army, Carter finds himself in a cave and is transported to Mars, or Barsoom, as the natives of Mars call it. With Mars torn by war between its great cities, Carter must aid the princess Dejah Thoris (Collins) in her struggle and find a way back home to Earth.
The best thing that John Carter has going for it is the world they have created. The design work of the airships, the cities, etc. is exquisite and maintains a retro futuristic look of what Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined that is translated beautifully on screen. The effects in creating the savage race known as the Tharks and the battle scenes are incredibly thrilling to watch.
When this movie hits its stride, it’s when it stops trying to over-explain its world to justify it and starts acting like a thrilling adventure. The beginning and the climax of the film maintain this tone and give the film the energy that it needs. The tone also benefits from the performance of the actors; when they just roll with the heroics and action instead of explaining every little part of the film’s world, the characters become more sympathetic and the audience can care about their fates more than before.
While the film has an old school adventure tone in parts of it; the bulk of it is overloaded with information and a little bad characterization that are counter productive to the film. The middle of film is bogged down with a lot of exposition that feels less like explaining all the complexities of the world, and the connections of the characters feels like it’s trying to justify its existence instead of having characters that are merely trying to live in this fantastic environment. Also, John Carter’s character has moments where he comes off as a bit unsympathetic; he is paired with a Thark named Sola who is one infraction away from being executed. So what does John Carter do? He breaks more rules and nearly dooms Sola to being executed. I get that he is supposed to be a soldier who is scarred by his experiences in the Civil War but there is a difference between that and a being a selfish jerk that doesn’t care what happens to anyone else — no matter how severe — as long as he gets what he wants.
These are some big problems, but the moments where John Carter embraces its old school adventure background is where it comes alive so strong that it elevates it above its flaws just enough to be an entertaining adventure on incredibly well realized world.
Front page image and interior stills from collider.com.