Reviews

John Carter

3

Stanton’s big red one. The Thark knights rise…

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (voted one of the worst movies ever). Mission To Mars (Rolling Stone: “De Palma has never made a dull movie. Until now.”). Red Planet (Variety: “Mission To Mars  had style to burn compared to Red Planet.”).

Ghosts Of Mars (killed John Carpenter’s career for nine years). Doom (one of Time magazine’s 10 Worst Ever Videogame Adaps). Mars Attacks! (Budget: $100m. US box-office: $38m). Mars Needs Moms (one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time).

If history has taught filmmakers one lesson, it’s that if you’re going to make a movie about Mars, it had better star Arnold Schwarzenegger and a lady with three boobies. Otherwise? Forget it. So, maybe the smartest thing WALL.E director Andrew Stanton has ever done was chopping the words “Of Mars” off the title of his first liveaction movie.

Of course, that does leave him with a movie that sounds like a dull drama about a medical intern from ER rather than an estimated $250m 3D blockbuster adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi adventure story A Princess Of Mars.

Exactly 100 years ago, the year he created Tarzan, Burroughs began publishing an 11-volume saga that’s influenced pretty much every major sci-fi storyteller since. Without John Carter (cough, of Mars), we wouldn’t have Star Wars, Star Trek or Avatar.

Long before Luke came dangerously close to sleeping with his sister, before Kirk began humping ladies of extra-terrestrial skin colour and before Jake made blue moves with Neytiri, there was an ex- Cavalry soldier called John Carter (here played by Taylor Kitsch, next seen in Battleship) who boldly went where no man had gone before to join a rebellion and fall in love with a Martian warrior-princess called Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Or should that be déjà vu?

The problem for Andrew Stanton’s blockbuster adap is that, a century later, we do have Star Wars, Star Trek and Avatar. Sadly, John Carter has come a little too late to his own party and all the other boys and girls have eaten his cake and popped his balloons.

What the Thark?

Even the witty intro scenes in the Old West – as raggedy gold-hunter Carter busts out of military jail only to run into Native Americans – feel unavoidably like Cowboys & Aliens. Maybe it’s no accident that a pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau was initially signed to direct John Carter (he appears to have stolen at least one gag from the script).

Before long, though, the cowboy is the alien, with Carter mysteriously transported to another desert world far, far away. No sooner has he escaped heavily armed natives on the American frontier, Carter is captured by more (literally) heavily armed natives at the final frontier.

“What the hell are you?” rasps the green-skinned Thark warrior who discovers him, amusingly echoing the famous exchange between another alien hunter and a bare-chested human supersoldier.

These 10ft-tall, four-armed, tusked, nomadic barbarians are the real triumph of Stanton’s movie, brought to life with convincing special effects and a fully believable culture where weakness – shockingly even from unhatched infants – isn’t tolerated.

Designed and depicted in superb detail, they’re a more fascinating race than the Na’vi and given palpable spirit by voice actors Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton. Carter’s adorable super-speedy Thark puppy also shows George Lucas exactly how you do a cute comedy sidekick. 

In fact, Stanton and co-writer Michael Chabon (author of Wonder Boys and Pulitzer Prize-winner The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay) work incredibly hard to show us the richness of Burroughs’ parched Barsoomian planet.

Things get more complex and, weirdly, slightly less interesting outside the Thark’s primitive tribal realm. An enigmatic race of powerful mystics (led by the effortlessly Machiavellian Mark Strong) appear to be puppeteering Mars’ red-skinned imperial civilisation, whose courageous Princess is being forced to marry the superweapon-wielding Prince Than (Dominic West).

Coming second

By now, Carter has discovered that he’s capable of Super Mario-style anti-gravity leaps (and, luckily, soft landings too) and strength greater than his size. JC, saviour of Mars, is a superman who can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

But other than a couple of promising battle scenes – Carter bounces into action to single-handedly bring down Prince Than’s deadly attack ships and join forces with the swordswinging Dejah – Stanton’s movie comes up too short on action.

Nothing here compares to the sustained  choreography and epic carnage of Avatar and The Lord Of The Rings. And, again, Lucas already borrowed some of the best bits, like the gladiatorial combat against fearsome beasts (Attack Of The Clones) and the speeder-bike chase (Return Of The Jedi). Kitsch proves a handsome, forceful hero, while Collins is a refreshingly dynamic heroine.

The Wolverine co-stars have strong chemistry and support from a vivid cast. But adrenaline and emotion rarely throb strongly enough to propel the story, making it tough to get particularly excited about a John Carter franchise, despite the vast world and mythology to explore.

To be fair, Stanton does wittily acknowledge he’s just made a movie about a human soldier whose body remains back on Earth while he goes native on an alien planet – Carter gets a Na’vi-blue blood bath at one point. And we’ll salute any filmmaker who manages to squeeze a decapitation into a Disney movie.

Verdict:

Get your ass to Mars? A handsome new sci-fi adventure that feels rather familiar. Enjoyable enough while it lasts, John Carter is big on ambition and disappointingly short on action.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • writerdave87

      Mar 2nd 2012, 11:59

      Sounds promising, reckon it'll still be better than the star wars prequels.

      Alert a moderator

    • ChrisWootton

      Mar 2nd 2012, 15:07

      I've just had a bland BLT sandwich... which was better than the prequels

      Alert a moderator

    • Ali1748

      Mar 2nd 2012, 22:50

      Anytime I see the line "get your a*s to mars" I hear Arnie.

      Alert a moderator

    • zeike

      Mar 3rd 2012, 13:04

      this proves george lucas doesnt have a creative bone in his body. he basically ripped of A princess of mars to make star wars and took all the credit. and is still getting filthy rich flogging it. sickening. this film of the original material will probably only do mediocre business too

      Alert a moderator

    • bloagsat

      Mar 13th 2012, 17:06

      2

      John Carter is an adaption from an eleven-volume series of books from Edgar Rice Buroughs, condensed into 132 minutes of film. Yeah, you heard me correctly… seventy thousand pages of prose, crammed into a 132 page script. It’s time to get out the butter and shoe horn, because this is going to hurt a bit. Let me see if I can ease your pain. In a nutshell, John Carter is basically Han Solo. Surly, brooding and selfish; a man motivated only by money. However, unlike Han Solo, John Carter’s actions make no sense. Look, everyone understood Han; he was a smuggler who owed a lot of money to a gangster and needed the reward to pay off his debts. John Carter? Well, I’m going to assume that he was married and had a daughter, because he wears two wedding rings (I guess his wife’s ring finger was the same size as a longshoreman), and we keep getting flashbacks to them. I’m also going to go out on a limb and suggest that something bad happened to them as flashbacks are never good (unless you’re really into acid and can’t afford it anymore). Anyway, John is searching for a lost cave filled with gold, but before he can find it, he gets arrested by a group of Union soldiers who want his help in fighting the Apache Indians. John refuses, saying that he’s not interested in choosing sides, gets beat up, thrown in jail and then escapes. Now, here’s where it gets confusing: John, being pursued by the Union soldiers stumbles across the path of an Apache war party. Everything is cool until a Union soldier shoots an Apache in cold blood. In the middle of the ensuing battle, John rescues the captain of the Union soldiers, p**sing off the Apache who then chase him into the mountains. So much for not choosing sides, John. Fortunately he seeks refuge in a cave which just happens to be filled with gold. Gold good… angry Apaches bad… crazy bald guy inside of cave with a magical energy knife, even worse. Why is there a Martian in a secret gold-filled cave on Earth? I’m guessing “space taxes”… Fortunately John simply shoots the guy. Hey bald guy, you never bring a knife to a gun fight. I guess he didn’t have Netflix. Anyway, the guy has a magical medallion which transports John to Mars. Just go with it… Fortunately Mars’ gravitational pull is much less than on Earth which means that John is now basically Superman, and can leap over mountain tops. Super Han Solo? What would that logo look like? John’s leaping ability really impresses the natives, so much so that they imprison him. Ok, then… So John is shackled to a wall, and then a rebellious alien female gives him a drink of water that enables him to understand their language. Hey, we don’t have time for “Dances with Wolves”… let’s just get this language s**t out of the way. It’s about this time that John figures out that she’s strong enough to snap the chains that are imprisoning him and he escapes. Well, except that he doesn’t, and he gets recaptured. His super powers are buggier than a Bethesda video game. Maybe if I turn the movie off and then switch it back on, he’ll be able to snap the chains again. At least he’s not being forced to carry around a f*****g drum when he’s clearly completed the quest (yes Skyrim, I’m looking at you). Sorry, back to the movie… I’m having a difficult understanding if the aliens are or aren’t stronger than him. One minute an alien is choking the life out of him and the next he’s standing in the middle of a pile of ten thousands steaming corpses that he just single-handedly dispatched. Now, the director anticipated that you might actually start thinking in the middle of this film, and so in order to distract you they introduced a loveable “space dog”. Anytime you start wondering why John Carter doesn’t simply leap away from trouble, or snap someone’s neck like a wishbone, the dog will fart. Let’s just move on… It seems that Mars has been destroyed by a giant moving city that has devastated all of the natural resources on the planet. I think it was made by “Hummer”, but don’t quote me on that. They are locked in a deadly stalemate with the last remaining city on Mars, which doesn’t move at all, but like all impressive space cities, it has a giant bridge that leads to the one gate that you can use to get inside. 5 bucks says that it’s a toll bridge. One day, in the middle of a battle, a bald dude shows up and presents the king of the moving city with a special weapon that will allow him to vaporize his enemy. Now, remember the opening cave scene where John shoots the bald dude and steals his medallion? Right, well it appears that this guy had the option of vaporizing John from his barcalounger, but instead decided to turn his weapon into a f*****g knife! What? Was it recharging or something? I’ll bet that he was playing some kind of Flash game with it. 10 hours of battery life? My a*s!! Anyway, what does the evil king decide to do with his new weapon of mass destruction? Why, force the other king’s daughter to marry him of course. Sorry, but didn’t you just tell me that this weapon can devastate an army? In fact, you just showed me a scene where this guy in fact, devastates an army. What the hell is all this s**t about a marriage? And, for that matter, if you can devastate an army on your own, then why the hell are you employing an army? Are they unionized or something? Nothing in this movie makes a lick of sense. I don’t understand why this walking city destroyed everything on the planet, I’m not sure if John’s problem is dietary or just really bad cardio, and I don’t know why, if you have an incredible weapon, and the ability to come to a planet that has trees on it, that you don’t just take your damn medallion and move into Versailles and staff it with teenaged Asian hookers. Hell, you don’t even need the medallion; you have a f*****g cave filled with gold! Was the written by Adam Sandler?

      Alert a moderator

    • sjmleicester

      Mar 18th 2012, 9:30

      3

      Two hours of Taylor Kitsch in a loin cloth kept me entertained or am I being shallow now? Ciaran Hinds in a fright wig was a bonus and other british actors taking the money and hoping no one else will notice so they can continue their art in more serious stuff. We discover the probable source of George Lucas' material. PS: You were right, Mission to Mars was absolutely dreadful.

      Alert a moderator

    • FBSHarrigan

      Mar 20th 2012, 21:29

      This seems to be classic science fiction at it's finest. Obviously it appears to be far more action oriented than the old novels, but it seems like the source material was in good hands with the film maker. The trailer has the a very epic feel and the stakes seem very high. This is a task a lot more difficult as it sounds, as there are savior stories that don't feel like the fate of the world is at stake. At the very least they know how to make a trailer to get someone pumped for a film. At worst I see it as a fun summer block buster even if it us unable to stand up to the source. It is very difficult not to be excited when watching this trailer. Hopefully though, the good trailer is not its downfall. http://www.videodetective.com/movies/john-carter/959716

      Alert a moderator

    • janaustin

      Jul 3rd 2012, 13:11

      John Carter will "shine" on people once they have seen this film. John Carter was an exceptional film. It was a wonderful story that made you want to go back and see it time and time again. The characters were heartwarming and fantastic. The cast - incomparable (if you loved the HBO Rome series, you will love this cast!). The story was beautifully written and directed by Andrew Stanton. There are thousands and thousands of fans from all over the world who love John Carter and are fighting for a Sequel. The DVD was Number 1 in sales it's first week in the U.S. and I hope it will be too in the UK! I hear new fans say everyday that had they seen more advertising of this film by Disney, or had known what John Carter was all about, or had not listened to reviewers of this film, they would have seen it in the theater. Had Disney marketed this film even close to standards, had Disney politics not played a part in the mishandling of this film, John Carter would have been a box-office success. So take a chance, buy the DVD and watch this film for yourself. Then join the thousands and thousands of fans who want Disney to take them Back To Barsoom!

      Alert a moderator

    • paulharmsworth

      Nov 2nd 2013, 3:09

      5

      This film was Brilliant. Does the "critic" like anything?this site should be re named 'I hate films'j. John Carter was ripped off many times, but this film tells an old and very original story. Get a decent critic from wherever they come from, some v unhappy place. What qualification do you need to become one, a Victor Meldrew clone by the look of it.

      Alert a moderator