My Review of “John Carter”

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, James Purefory, Ciaran Hinds and Bryan Cranston

Summary:

“From filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes John Carter-a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.”

– (C) Walt Disney

Review:

There are a few spoilers in this review, but don’t worry, it won’t be anything major.

I wanted to love John Carter, I really did, but sadly I ended up only loving small parts of it. With Andrew Stanton (Oscar winning director and writer of classics like Finding Nemo and Wall*e) at the helm , and the film being an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved class “A Princess of Mars,”  I thought this picture could do no wrong.  Andrew Stanton himself is a huge fan of Burroughs’ work and the fact that this was a passion project of his only gave me more optimism. As it turns out, this film ended up being very disappointing.

The biggest problem with the movie is that the basic storyline is far too boring. Only a few ounces of suspense are produced and the entire middle third of the film sags heavily with only a couple standout moments.  There are in fact, several scenes that are almost completely unnecessary and only make the film feel more cumbersome. Ironically, one of of those relatively unnecessary scenes ends up being my favorite, and in my opinion, the best part of the entire film.

John Carter and Dejah Thoris

This scene involves John Carter (and his little, alien-dog friend who I will get to later) fighting off an entire legion of enemies called the “Warhoon” in order to give Dejah Thoris and a “Thark” (9 foot tall, green, 4 armed, and barbaric inhabitants of Mars) named Sola the time to escape. During this battle scene, there several cutaways to brief clips that give us an insight into Carter’s depressing past. This scene is made incredibly well made and when it cuts from Carter killing these “Warhoon” by the dozen to him burying his wife and child, you’d have to be pretty cold-hearted not to feel at least a little emotion. This sequence also gives us a chance to see how badass John Carter really is.

John Carter faces off with the "Warhoon"-- my favorite part of the film.

The film also has too much cheesy dialogue. Some of the things the characters say are just a little too unnatural, while some of the lines are just plain cringe-worthy. Other films reminiscent of John Carter such as Star Wars  and Avatar (two better films which are actually heavily inspired by “A Princess of Mars” ) also have the same problem, but those films had many great aspects to them while this film only has a few.

In terms of villainy, it is hard to get more boring than the ones in  John Carter. The two main villains, a Thern (seemingly all-powerful, shape shifting, priest-like characters who feed off destruction) named Matai Shang (Strong) and a Zodangan (a warlike race which is sucking Mars’ resources dry) King called Sab Than (West,)  are very underdeveloped, but this actually  turns out to  be a good thing because they are so severely uninteresting. They use this weapon called the “9th Ray” which is pretty much a blue light that allows them to destroy everything they want. This weapon doesn’t make for anything threatening and it ends up relying on the only visual effect in the movie that doesn’t look fantastic.

Mark Strong playing Matai Shang, the evil Thern and main villain of the film.

Dominic West as the villain Sab Than, the Jeddak of Zodanga

I thought that for the most part, the acting ranged from decent to good. Taylor Kitsch is fine in the title role, but nothing more.  I felt as if they could have found someone who a looked a little more masculine for the part but that is my only real gripe. Lynn Collins is extremely beautiful and charming as Dejah Thoris but doesn’t have enough to do. Willem Dafoe (acting using CGI/Motion Capture) is always great and it is no different here as the Jeddak, Tars Tarkas (“Jeddak” means king), who is having trouble suppressing his compassion in a barbaric society that doesn’t allow emotion. While the villains are uninteresting, they are still played reasonably well by Mark Strong (who is now typecast in the arrogant “bad-guy” role) and Dominic West.

The Tharks, Tal Hajus (left) and Tars Tarkas (right), played by Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe respectively.

By far the best thing about this film is the visuals. This film is absolutely epic in scope while featuring phenomenal CGI with some great cinematography that captures the beautiful landscape of “Barsoom.” The aforementioned battle sequence with the “Warhoon” is among the best action scenes I’ve seen in a long time, in fact, it’s one of my all-around favorite parts of any movie I’ve seen over the past few years. There is also the thrilling action scene that was heavily exploited in the promotion of the film, the “Great White Ape” sequence. This sequence ends with a surprisingly gory and just plain awesome moment that left me with a huge smile on my face (John Carter is actually an extremely bloody movie and the only reason the film get’s away with a PG-13 rating is because of the inhabitants of Mars actually have blue-colored blood).  Even though the film did have a couple great action scenes, the opening and ending battle scenes aren’t memorable in the slightest, with the last one being highly anticlimactic.

"Great White Ape" battle scene

In terms of motion capture, the film is brilliant. The Tharks ended up being some of my favorite characters in the movie and they were done entirely with the technology. I actually found that almost all the scenes with the Tharks were easily the most entertaining sections of the film, and the scenes with the  human-like characters were by far the most boring.

What’s funny is that the most compelling and entertaining character is one who has no dialogue; it’s Woola, the alien-dog I mentioned above. His extreme loyalty to John Carter, his playfulness, and his ability to run 250 miles per hour, make him hilarious and actually pretty awesome when he gets into battle.

Woola, John Carter's dog-like companion who is one of the best best aspects of the film.

Michael Giacchino is one of the best composers working today and it is no surprise that he created an absolutely wonderful musical score for this movie. It just feels so adventurous and sweeping. It was hard for me to stop humming the main theme after walking out of the theater.

I also loved the ending of this film. It is really unique and unravels in an unexpected way that is interesting and left me wanting a little more.

Even though I was disappointed by this film, I still enjoyed it and will definitely see it again.  It was a movie that had some great visuals, with decent characters and humor, but is weighed down heavily by cheesy dialogue, uninteresting villains and a boring plot.

Grade: I’m still trying to decide between a C+ and a B- , I’d give it a 6.5/ 10.

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