Although John Carter manages to entertain by the time the end credits roll, the film falls short of how great it should have been given the importance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories. The character and his tales have influenced sci-fi films from Star Wars to Avatar, but his big screen adaptation feels flat despite its epic scope and solid visuals.
The big-budgeted Disney film marked the live-action directing debut for Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and WALL-E), and was co-written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. It featured Taylor Kitsch in the heroic role of John Carter and Lynn Collins as the beautiful princess of Mars (or at least Princess of Helium) Dejah Thoris. It also featured the talented actors Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, and Willem Dafoe.
The problem with the film can be seen in the opening moments as the story unfolds in a rather clunky fashion with the audience being quickly introduced to a war that is ravaging Mars (or Barsoom as it is called in the film). Sab Than (a scene chewing West), the Jeddak of Zodanga, has been given a powerful weapon by Matai Shang (Strong), a mysterious Thern, that he plans to use to make Tardos Mors (Hinds), the Jeddak of Helium, surrender his city. Mors is able to convince Than to spare his city by agreeing to let Than marry his daughter Dejah.
Back on Earth, former American Civil War Confederate Army captain John Carter is in the Arizona Territory looking for gold. Carter is a shell of a man who is haunted by the death of his wife and child during the Civil War. He also has a quick temper and knows how to fight. A run-in with Union soldiers and some local Apache helps Carter discover the gold mine he knew was hidden in the area, and also puts him face to face with a Thern. Following a quick fight and the use of a Thern medallion, Carter awakes on Mars.
Once on Mars, the film’s pace picks up and the sci-fi action goes into full throttle. Carter discovers his Earth bone density gives him the ability to leap for miles and somewhat super strength (sometimes he had it and sometimes he didn’t). He also gets captured by the green Martian Tharks and becomes a champion for their Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Dafoe).
His stay with the green Martians doesn’t last as he flees with Tarkas’ daughter Sola (Morton) and Dejah to find the sacred river and Carter’s way home. Along the way, Carter falls in love with Dejah, and makes his decision to fight for her side.
The film builds at a predictable pace with Carter and Tharks joining forces with Helium to stop the Sab Than before he can marry Dejah.
Carter is also sent back to Earth by the scheming Matai Shang and is forced to use his riches from the gold mine to find a way back – which also leaves the film open for a sequel.
John Carter isn’t a bad movie and will probably get better with multiple viewings. The film just isn’t as good as it should have been given the importance of Burroughs’ stories. The film’s biggest problems are the result of dead dialogue, and an extremely stiff performance from Kitsch – who isn’t a good fit for the Carter role.
Kitsch is an extremely talented actor (as proven by his incredible performance as Tim Riggins on the Friday Night Lights television series), but just doesn’t seem to fit in the film. At times he seems bored, lost or trying to do his best Clint Eastwood impersonation. There is zero chemistry between Kitsch and Collins – which makes the romance aspects of the story feel rushed and forced.
Visually, the film captures the epic qualities of the story, and the CGI (while overdone at times) looks solid on Blu-ray’s crystal clear picture. The Blu-ray also comes with great special features that take you into the making of the movie and also shows the importance of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character to science fiction. There are also several deleted scenes and a great blooper reel that will keep you laughing.
John Carter is a movie that will probably get better with age and managed to do several things right – despite some problems. It could have been better, but is an entertaining sci-fi epic.
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