Movie Review: John Carter

Here’s what I knew about John Carter before I went into the cinema:

  1. Its based on a series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, most famous as the creator of Tarzan.
  2. The original title was John Carter Of Mars, but apparently research showed that audiences don’t like sci-fi. This makes no sense as the trailer was pretty sci-fi heavy, and at least it gave you a good idea of what the flick was about. John Carter could literally be about anything involving a bloke with that name.
  3. Its not done well at the box office.
  4. There’s a comic book series based on the same characters and seemingly every cover features a woman so scantily clad she makes Red Sonja look overdressed.

I went into the flick hoping that I’d see an entertaining, engaging adventure movie about a cowboy transported to an alien world of warring tribes, monsters and princesses in skimpy clothing.

I mean, if those aren’t the ingredients for good, old fashioned fun, I’m not sure what is.

But somehow the film manages to drop the ball and my general reaction to the film was “meh”.

The plot is needlessly convoluted, with various aliens with daft names cropping up, different tribes and lots of exposition dialogue that kind of slows things down.

The story is basically about Carter (Taylor Kitsch) a former Confederate soldier turned treasure hunter who stumbles across a cave of gold with strange markings and is transported to Mars aka Barsoom.

Due to his human bone structure and Mars’ weaker gravity, Carter is able to leap great distances in single bounds and is stronger. He’s adopted by Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe), the leader of the savage Thargs, four armed aliens.

Haunted and disillusioned by his experiences during the Civil War, Carter is reluctant to fight but gets drawn into a war between two warring cities of humanoids- the enlightened Helium and the moving, destructive city of Zodanga.

Zodanga’s leader, Sab Than (Dominic West) has been given a mystical weapon that allows him to destroy everything in his path, a gift given to him by these slapheaded sorceror-ish blokes known as Therns (headed up by Mark Strong). In order to have peace with Helium he wishes to marry the princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who is somewhat reluctant. After saving the princess, Carter is forced to fight.

The film is nowhere near as fun as it should be. There’s far too much standing around talking, which mainly involves a stream of weird names and explaining things to Carter. Quite often you find yourself thinking that somebody on set should’ve quoted Harrison Ford’s criticism to George Lucas “You can type this s*it, but you can’t say it.”

There are a few moments when the film actually gets into its groove- the scene where Carter struggles to adjust to the weaker gravity before finally mastering it and joyfully bounding across the desert is kind of charming, and there are a few other good set pieces.

But on the whole, it just all feels a little bit flat. Kitsch tries his best and does have some charisma as the lead, but Carter’s never fully believable. You buy his backstory and reluctance to fight, and you understand why he does get involved, but he just seems rather 2D in places and he adjusts to life on Mars extremely quickly.

The major problem for me was that you could see all the opportunities it missed. I haven’t read the Burroughs books, so maybe this was a close adaptation of the text, but I couldn’t help feeling that it would be better if they’d ramped up the pulpy monsters and fighting side of things.

There is an impressive fight halfway through where Carter cuts loose and makes a stand against an entire army, hacking and smashing his way through a sea of green aliens. Its visually impressive and quite good fun, but by intercutting with Carter burying his family back on Earth it robs the film of what could have been a gleefully mindless, entertaining spectacle.

For me, the major problem with the film was the great cast that’s wasted throughout. Ciaran Hinds has very little to do as the chief of Helium. The ever-reliable Mark Strong is rather good as the Thern, but there’s only one scene where he really gets to show his class, a discussion with Carter where his friendly manner and knowledge of Earth makes him come across as even more of a menacing presence.

Dominic West’s villainous Sab Than just seems weak and idiotic, and West is never given an opportunity to really have fun with the role. West is an incredibly charismatic performer, but here its not given a chance to show through, similarly the awesome James Purefoy, despite one or two minor moments showing the kind of roguish charm he does ever so well, is criminally underused in a thankless supporting role. (Yes, Purefoy is on the man crush list as well)

Purefoy- Criminally underused

All in all a disappointing flick, with the frustration at its failings outweighing its good points.

Verdict: A painfully average affair, and falls far short of the fun it should contain. The effects are quite good, but it all feels rather flat and several of the action sequences are a little dull. And some great actors in supporting roles are squandered. 4/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. TTFN


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