PG Cooper: John Carter Review

Posted: August 6, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: March 9th, 2012

Running time: 2 hours and 12 minutes

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon

Based on: The novel “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, and Mark Strong

John Carter is one of the most fascinating movies to come out this year. Not because of the film itself, but everything surrounding it. The film is an adaptation of science-fiction stories dating back 100 years. I’ve never read any of these stories, but they’re said to inspire major science fiction from Superman to Star Wars to Avatar. I remember thinking that was kind of cool, but the trailers were really weak and I wasn’t really interested in the film. I remember thinking the film would bomb, but I had no idea to what magnitude. Planned to be the first in a series, the film is said to have lost Disney 200 million dollars, has led to the resignation of the head of Disney films, and writer/director Andrew Stanton returning to Pixar (where he made is name) to work on Finding Nemo 2. That is a pretty thorough failure, and I had to wonder if the film warranted such a failure.

The titular character is a civil war veteran played by Taylor Kitsch. Carter is disillusioned and has taken to searching for material items. Through a strange encounter, Carter finds himself transported to Mars (or Barsoom as it’s called by the locals) and caught in a war between three alien races. Carter sides with Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who fights for the city known as Helium against the evil city of Zodanga, led by Sab Than (Dominic West). A race known as the Tharks are caught in the middle and would rather the two alien groups kill each other instead of getting involved. They are led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Behind all the scenes is a mysterious creature known as Matai Sheng (Mark Strong), the leader of a group called The Therns.

Despite that plot description sounding like a convoluted mess full of weird names, the story is pretty easy to follow as it boils down to bad guys are bad and need to be stopped by the good guys, though this quickly falls apart when one asks some logical questions. Namely questions like, “What does anyone want?” All three of the main alien races on Mars (or Barsoom if you prefer) are in conflict with each other and there are talks of old hatred, but it is never revealed why the groups are on conflict or why there would be any hatred. All the audience is told is that they are fighting. I found this especially ironic given the film has loads of dialogue about fighting for a cause. At one point near the end, Matai Sheng reveals some insight on what his motivations are, his answers are pretty vague and undeveloped. He may have just said, “I want to conquer Mars because it says so in the script.” Given that I had no idea why everyone was fighting, I found myself pretty bored and apathetic through a majority of the film.

The film is led by Taylor Kitsch in the title role, who does little to gain audience sympathy. I’ve never had any strong feelings toward Kitsch as an actor. His work in films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Savages may not be remarkable, but it is certainly serviceable. But one left to carry a film on his back, Kitsch flounders. It’s not entirely his fault, the character he’s given is pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting, but Kitsch certainly could have done more to make Carter at least somewhat interesting. Opposite Kitsch is Lynn Collins as the central love interest. To be blunt, Collins is pretty bad here. She’s wooden throughout and has a sort of dazed look like she doesn’t really know what’s going on. Actors like Mark Strong and Willem Dafoe fare better in their roles, but their characters are ultimately just as uninteresting as everyone else. I’m also confused as to why Bryan Cranston is in the film given his screen time amounts to little and he contributes very little to the film. Waste of a real talent.

It’s not all bad though. There are a few things about the film I actually enjoy. The special effects for example, are pretty good. We’re not talking Avatar levels of quality, but the effects work. There are also some action scenes which, while completely unmemorable, are mostly entertaining while they’re on. I also think there’s a fairly clever scene near the end and I even enjoyed the comedic relief creature in the film.

So does John Carter deserve to be one of the biggest flops in film history? Not really. There are enough minor points that save Carter from being a complete failure. That said, the film certainly didn’t deserve to be a success either and I’m not exactly upset that the film fared as poorly as it did. My one hope is Andrew Stanton makes a financial comeback of sorts. I feel the writer/director behind WALL-E deserves another shot.

Rating: D-

  1. ckckred says:

    My thoughts were the same as yours. I just found the movie too strange and poorly written. I liked Kitsch in Friday Night Lights and Stanton is a great director (Wall-E is one of my favorite animated films of all time), but John Carter doesn’t really work as a whole. Though it kind of annoys me that everyone thinks it’s terrible just because it flopped at the box office, it still is far from being good. Nice review.

  2. ruth says:

    Hmmm, I actually enjoyed this movie despite the harsh reviews. I went it with tepid expectations so perhaps that helps. I was quite engrossed in the story, and though there are some issues, at least I was pretty entertained. I’m not fond of Kitsch either but somehow he wasn’t as bad as I thought here. I think I was more fascinated by the idea that this story actually inspired a lot of classics like Star Wars, etc. I do think the marketing is a huge failure though.

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