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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Movie Review: JOHN CARTER


"When I saw you, I believed it was a sign that something new can come into this world."
-- Tars Tarkas

John Carter is a 2012 science-fiction action film directed by Andrew Stanton that serves as his first major directorial foray into the realm of live-action cinema. Based off the first novel from Edgar Rice Borrough's Barsoom series, the film tells the story of Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who finds himself mysteriously transported to an unknown world called Barsoom. Upon his arrival, he is captured by a race of strange creatures known as the Tharks, led by a creature called Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe). After proving his warrior merit, Tars Tarkas admits John into his tribe and claims that he will help the Tharks defeat their enemies. Never one to fight for a cause, Carter tries to back out of the duty but is swayed after saving a young woman named Dejah Thoris (voiced by Lynn Collins). She explains to John that Barsoom is what he knows to be Mars, and that her world is slowly dying. The constant struggle between her home city of Helium and the enemy city of Zodanga has brought the world to its breaking point, and she believes that John is the man who can make a change. Although he initially avoids the fight, John finally decides to battle for the good of Barsoom.

When Disney prepared to release John Carter, they had expected it to be their next big franchise. With a $250 million budget and an accomplished director at the helm, who was to say that it wouldn't be a smash hit? Still, in the months prior to its release, I don't recall seeing many trailers for the film, and I don't think it really got as much publicity as it needed. Added to the mixed reviews it received from the critical community, and John Carter simply did not perform at the box office. Ultimately, the film barely made back all the money it cost to make, and it finally settled for a tiny $30 million profit. Still, I had every desire to see the film but never had the chance to do so while it played in theaters. And so, to RedBox I went.

The first thing you're going to notice about John Carter is that it's mildly confusing. Now, I've seen plenty of movies with screenplays that make little to no sense, and this one definitely doesn't rank amongst those dregs. However, from the very get-go, you're going to be scratching your head wondering exactly what's going on. We get the basic idea: a man is transported to Mars, where he is captured and all that jazz, but there's little things going on in between that make for a little bit of confusion. It's almost as though we're feeling the same confusion that the John Carter character must be feeling upon his transport, and if that was Stanton's aim, then kudos to him. As the film continues along, however, it ultimately falls into a rote action flick that becomes very predictable very, very quickly. The breath of imagination quickly leaves the film, and I was left wondering how the man who wrote and directed both Finding Nemo and WALL-E could bring forth something so pedestrian.

One thing I did like about the film's storyline, however, was the parallels between the Barsoomian people's war and the American Civil War in which Carter himself fought. We're seeing two opposing cities (a la the North and the South) do battle against one another while a more rudimentary culture (a la the Native Americans) stands by and watches from the side. In that sense, the film does bring something rather interesting, but it serves more as a basis for Stanton's entire concept than as a plot point itself.

The cast in the film does a serviceable job throughout, but I wasn't really overly impressed by anyone in particualr. Kitsch, whose biggest claim to fame is his role on TV's "Friday Night Lights," does well with the role, but it doesn't seem like there was a lot to go with. He has the necessary physique for the action sequences, but with only a small bit of intelligent dialogue, there really wasn't much for him to do. Collins falls into the same category, bringing out the character but not bringing anything overly fantastic. We do get some nice vocal performances from the likes of Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church (in a small bit), as well as some slightly stronger live-action roles from the likes of Mark Strong and Dominic West. And there's even some very small roles from people like Ciarán Hinds, Bryan Cranston and Daryl Sabara, but they're here and gone relatively quickly.

The one thing that John Carter does have going for it is its special effects which are sure to dazzle. Although I'm not quite sure it's anything truly spectacular, I'm sure seeing this Barsoomian world on the big screen was quite a sight to behold. After the visual brilliance of a film like WALL-E, I'm glad to see that Stanton didn't lose sight of his visual performance, even if the rest of the film doesn't quite measure up.

At the end of the day, John Carter is a relatively uneven action film that falls into standard cliché very quickly. Still, there's enough to keep you engaged throughout the film, even if you're going to be a tad bit confused from time to time. Viewers beware: this one runs a bit longer than two hours, and the film starts to overstay its welcome around the ninety-minute mark.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: C-
Status: Don't Need to See


  1. Thanks for doing this review of John Carter, Shaun. I really hope it is as bad as you and every other reviewer says. I have a weekly contest with a couple of my coworkers from DISH to see who can find the worst (best?) B movie and I have added John Carter to the top of my Blockbuster @Home rental queue in the hopes that it will be this weeks winner. I know we normally go for low budget stuff, but with the reviews that John Carter got, a big budget shouldn’t haven any effect.

  2. Well written review but I couldn't disagree more. I loved the movie, and found the storyline to be fine, and not confusing at all. I'm not sure if you have read the books but the movie was very faithful to the book.

    John Carter was very well played by Taylor Kitsch, and the "intelligent dialogue" well dude they lifted a lot of that from the actual book so blame the author if you want but he's dead.

    Go read the book, and then judge the film.. It's actually very faithful to the book, and the director I thought did a fantastic job in this movie.