Disney’s “John Carter” is a maddeningly inconsistent movie.
At times it’s adventurous, imaginative, and spectacular to watch. At others, it’s ponderous, clumsy, and even occasionally silly. For every moment of awe that is created by its lavish special effects, there’s an offset by a line of terrible dialogue. For every moment where the Martian culture and creatures make you think “Oh, that’s kind of cool”, there’s and offsetting moment that makes you go “Tsch… Come on…”
It’s certainly not a bad ticket purchase, but it’s a long way from living up to its potential.
John Carter is an ex-Confederate soldier who now seeks his fortune prospecting for gold. During an attempt to escape arrest, Carter encounters a strange man who appears out of this air inside a desert cave. After shooting him, Carter examines a mysterious device the man was carrying… and winds up finding himself transported to Mars.
On Mars, Carter’s Earthborn physiology lends him tremendous strength and leaping abilities. Which he will need, as he is captured soon thereafter by an indigenous race of creatures known as Tharks. The Tharks are a hardened, warrior race of creature standing ten to twelve feet tall, with six arms and green skin. Due to his fantastical leaping abilities, they keep Carter alive as a possible soldier for their internal clan struggles… but there wind up being more pressing issues at hand.
Carter has landed on the planet during a time of war.
Due to the behind the scenes machinations of a race known as the Therns, the Barsoom city-states of Zodanga and Helium are pitted against each other in a destructive conflict. The Princess of Helium is struggling to discover the scientific basis for the Zodangan’s power weapon, but her house would rather see her pledged in marriage to Sab Than, the warrior leader of Zodanga. Of course, John Carter’s arrival changes everything…
I mention so much of these elements by name, because if “Green Lantern” taught me anything, it’s that its difficult to get audiences to accept strange new mythologies, terms, places, etc. (amongst other flaws of that film, that’s certainly not the sole factor in that film’s lack of acceptance). So the fact that there are so many different types of creatures, and strange place names like Barsoom and Jarsoom (for Mars and Earth respectively) and creatures called Therns and Tharks with names like Sola and Tars Tarkas. It’s just not a simple step for a lot of people to take, and especially if the film isn’t wowing them or winning them over. Without the magic of the movie encouraging them to buy in, they’ll resist the strangeness and find it off-putting.
The dialogue of the film won’t help. At all. Every line… honestly, I felt like every line was just a big, epic, over-important, over-written, rimshot-worthy clanker. The characters speak in a constant stream of clichéd nonsense that manages to seem simultaneously dumbed down and aggrandized. This movie should have come with a cymbalist to clap his cymbals together at varying volumes each and every time someone spoke. Seriously, this is some George Lucas level dialogue right here, people. The special effects in the trailer should no longer be the only reason people are comparing this flick to the Star Wars prequels…
I know that a lot of that will wind up reflecting on Kitsch and Collins as collateral damage, but I was able to tell that it wasn’t so much the acting as it was the material. Kitsch has the look and the requisite charisma to pull off this role. I know from FNL that he has the chops, and in fact, he wasn’t bad here, he was simply handcuffed with terrible lines. Collins has an exotic touch to her beauty that makes her perfect for the role of a princess from another planet. She too, did a fine job, considering the handicap she was given via the script.
As a story, the film isn’t bad. It’s kind of simplified, but that’s to be expected I suppose. But it will keep you interested enough as the battle sequences and special effect shots play out. Unfortunately, I never felt that any of those scenes were fantastic enough to win the day. They were decent throughout, and occasionally good, but the film lacked that one set piece that was jaw dropping or memorable. That special “WOW” moment that will sell Blu Rays down the road… I just never felt that with any of the action scenes.
Given the uphill challenge of introducing new characters, new creatures and new cultures, “John Carter” does an admirable job. However, encumbered by bad dialogue and a story that’s composed of well-worn elements, the movie never really grabbed me. Occasionally the spectacle of the film rose to the occasion and provided some enjoyment, but there wasn’t enough of it to overcome some of the more glaring weaknesses for me.