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John Carter

on March 03, 2012 by Sara Maria Vizcarrondo
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johncarterreview.pngIt's Taylor Kitsch's season. Just passing 30, this heartthrob has made his biggest splash playing Tim Riggins in TV's Friday Night Lights and now steals the show from CG aliens, BBC mini-stars and this generation's answer to Xena Warrior Princess. A surprisingly convincing Civil War cavalryman, Kitsch's John Carter loses everything to become an unwelcome prospector and then get magicked onto "Barsoom," (a.k.a. Mars). There, John Carter of Earth meets the Princess of Mars and baddy Mark Strong (resembling a reject from Dark City) to lead many nations and two species into battle for a vaguely identified "freedom." All this while Ciaran Hinds shows too much belly and Willem Dafoe voices a four-armed green alpha Martian. It's got the schmaltz and grandeur of the 80s Clash of the Titans but little of the warm wonder that made that spectacle such an addiction. The seasoned cast are remarkable with their stentorian proclamations of gobbledygook (in King's English, of course) but the spectacle is just a massive event that passes you byfor all its gloss and expenditure, it's missing heart, which is a surprise because it was directed by Andrew Stanton, the man who transformed a near-featureless CG robot named Wall-E into the heart wrenching Chaplin surrogate of tomorrow's distended dystopia. Based on the 1912 serial by Edgar Rice Burroughs that spawned like twenty reprisals, Carter's graphic novel pedigree will earn those pre-fab fans with easy appeal, but may not leave them happy.

Predictably brusque and solitary, John Carter is a down-on-his-luck prospector: we don't know he's a highly desirable cavalryman until a blonde Bryan Cranston seeks him out and orders his henchmen to wrestle Carter to the ground. Thereafter, multiple fast cuts move him from an outpost, to an office to a holding cell as quickly and nonsensically as the cut that drops him from an Arizona cave to the sand dunes of Mars. After shaking off the confusion, he learns there are some major advantages to being an earthling on this new planet: particularly, brutish strength and a superhuman capacity to jump great distances. He was valuable on earth, but on Mars he's a mini-god! He's found on the day a community of 12-foot, four armed monsties (led by Willem Dafoe) retrieve their hatchlings from a sand nest. John is spared from death and thrown in with the green slimeballs for cultural indoctrinationhe emerges all abs and tunic, magically able to understand the natives, though some words (crucial ones, like Barsoom) remain beyond the reach of translation. It's a world where technology and faith are equally revered and indivisible and where a master race of morphing watchmen manipulate the fates to match the agenda of "The goddess" we'll never meet.

Mark Strong, in a metacomment on his career, plays the head of a trio of morphing menthey become people much in the same way Agent Smith does in The Matrix, but the result is less menacing and more comical, since the morphers interim costume is a frosty, high necked robe (while the rest of Mars dons beach wear), and Mark Strong didn't need help perfecting that cue ball look. The film's biggest (and saddest) crime is malaiseit's not that John Carter doesn't care about what it's doing, it just can't make us care, even though the magnitude of every event, conflict and emotion is as melodramatic as its Victorian roots. Since John Carter first appeared in 1912, one presumes that whatever oddities this story invented may well have been original at the time, but after so many remixes and reinventions of serial content, this "original" just looks like a desperate mash up of curios mined more usefully and intriguingly elsewhere. Tragic, really. While I'm all for excavating bedrock in a field as overexploited as serials/comics, this one didn't reach origin, it just reviewed rubble. And that rubble was showy but even it's made of used parts.

Distributor: Walt Disney
Cast: Taylor Kitch, Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Bryan Cranston, Samantha Morton, Ciaran Hinds, Polly Walker, Mark Strong, James Purefoy, Thomas Haden Church, Daryl Sabara, Dominic West
Director: Andrew Stanton
Screenwriter: Michael Chabon
Producers: Colin Wilson, Susan Montford, Jim Morris
Genre: Action/Adventure
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
Running time: 132 min.
Release Date: March 9, 2012

 

Tags: Jim Morris, Susan Montford, Colin Wilson, Michael Chabon, Andrew Stanton, Dominic West, Daryl Sabara, Thomas Haden Church, James Purefoy, Mark Strong, Polly Walker, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton, Bryan Cranston, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Taylor Kitch
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3 Comments

  • astrangersmyth on 19 May 2012

    I couldn't believe that this movie did not make huge bank! Yeah the trailers made it seem like it was going to be a rip off from other greats such as "Star Wars" and "Avatar" but honestly it was much different! And I enjoyed every minutes of this movie. My overall rating for "John Carter" was an 8 out 10.

  • kmcarlock on 11 June 2012

    This review is written to be more snarky than thoughtful. Wonder what is more cynical - this review or my impression that Ms. Vizcarrondo is intentionally throwing in negative "key words" so that the review perculates to the top of the negative press in Web searches? Also, Barsoom does not translate into English? Why should proper names have to translate? Should Pedro, for instance, translate to Peter or should names be translated further into their original meanings (Peter means Stone) to satisfy your glibness? Princess Beloved (Sara Maria), let me introduce you to Stone Park Keeper (Peter Parker, a.k.a. the Amazing Spider-Man) and Life Lionhearted (Vito Corleone, a.k.a. The Godfather).

    We are thrown into worlds as in Star Wars where the movie has been "pre-translated" into English for us Earth folk but certain names like Darth Vader, Yoda, Dagobah, Yavin, Naboo are left unexplained but in John Carter, now it's a problem. Why does Star Wars get a pass with its whacko names? Please don't say Star Wars was there first. Emperor Ming of Mongo, from the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, will have a bone to pick with that. Star Wars took a lot from those Flash Gordon serials (the title crawl, the city in the clouds, rebels vs. imperials, soft wipes, etc.) and Flash Gordon took a lot of inspiration from the John Carter book series. Apparently though 2012 has now been chosen to draw the line on this recycling and the critics agree to draw the John Carter movie which is ironic because JOHN CARTER WAS THERE FIRST (in the books at least). Can't you save this re-tread talk for a property that truly re-treads it? It is sad that we as a culture have to trash the original source material and forget that we, all of us, stand upon the shoulders of giants. Giants like Edgar Rice Burroughs, without whom there might never have been a Star Wars, an Avatar, a Flash Gordon, a Buck Rogers, or a Superman?

  • xodar on 12 June 2012

    I notice that several reviews (like this one) have accused JOHN CARTER of being full of cliches, only to add, apparently in Burroughs' defense, that the cliches were probably fresh back in 1912. Yet as far as I can tell, the alleged cliches in this movie -- e.g., a hero with a troubled past trying to make up for past shortcomings, an emperor forcing his daughter to marry against her will, a race of shape-shifting aliens with high tech and maybe super-powers controlling the fate of worlds -- were all introduced by Disney! Not one of those plot devices appears in the original book. For me, the movie works best whenever it hews as closely as possible to Burroughs' original intent, and goes wrong whenever it tries to pander to 21st century tastes.

What do you think?