By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 7 out of 10
It was the series that preceded Star Wars, Indiana Jones and all of the subsequent science fiction/action sagas that define the last two generations in film. Even Avatar was directly influenced by a series that began in the 20th century and has now been finally brought to the screen courtesy of Disney’s John Carter. This box-office bomb doesn’t misfire completely, rather falling victim to its source material and the constant influence it has had over the last century.
John Carter, a Confederate Officer, finds himself on Mars after a mysterious power transports him to the other world. He is placed into the middle of a war between two human-like races and changes the course of the planet in the process.
Since the film was announced, I was very interested in how this film would be portrayed knowing the source material that it was coming from, as the film was brought from a long-lasting serial novel series known as A Princess of Mars, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The blessing and the curse of John Carter comes in the relevance of the source text; it was a pioneering piece of literature that paved the way for many o the films and adventures of today but in this era that consistently craves fresh ieas and new plot lines, this movie fails to register.
First, the film looks drop-dead gorgeous. This movie was going to look good, and is one of the better 3D movies out there that isn’t completely CGI. Mars, or “Barsoom” as it is known to the natives, is beautiful to look at, and the visual effects in the film are handled with near perfection, as the action sequences, especially the much-publicized arena fight look as good as they can on both the big screen and small screen and need to be seen and heard to believe.
Watching this summer’s biggest box office bomb Battleship may present the contrary; but Taylor Kitsch can lead a movie. He does as well of a job as possible playing the multi-layered Carter, making his role as believable as possible while keeping the level of complete cheese low. In the movie, Carter is transported to Mars to find that he has super-strength and can jump long distances due to the lowered gravity on the planet. He asserts his role as revolutionary later on in the film and it is a smooth transition, holding a tragic secret during the film, which adds a great deal of emotion and resolve that results in an entertaining and exciting final 30 minutes.
One shortfall of the film from the outset is the complicated plot. Viewers have to quickly pick up the three primary races on the planet; the Tharks, who are green, multi-armed creatures, and the two clans of humans, the inhabitants of Helium and Zodanga, who have been at war for over a thousand years. Lynn Collins plays Dejah Thoris, a Princess of Helium who is set to be wed to Sab Than (Dominic West), a soldier of Zodanga who is under the control of Matai Shang (Mark Strong) one of the Therns, an ancient race of Martians who control the order of balance on the planet. If you think that is confusing, try going into the movie without having any prior knowledge whatsoever and trying to keep up with the ridiculous terminology throughout the two-hour running time.
The supporting cast of the film also does a good job keeping this confusing information in check throughout the movie. Collins has a demanding role, but keeps the ship from sinking by portraying a believable (as believable as this film can be) princess that wants the best for her people. Mark Strong once again plays a ridiculous villain, keeping this role well in line and the objectives well known throughout the film.
John Carter‘s biggest pitfall is that it is formulaic, which is a fault of the source material more than the fault of the filmmakers. The film itself will feel familiar from beginning to end, as a stranger from a foreign land comes in to ruin a royal wedding and ultimately save the world. Its a song that has been sung a million times and Andrew Stanton, known more for his animated works such as Up and Wall-E, is unable to make this redundant story fresh again, which may turn off viewers that are expecting something new.
In a generation where films are constantly trying to one-up one another, John Carter fails to separate itself from the rest, although the film is visually outstanding and is supported by a strong cast. If this movie came out a few decades ago it would be seen as a classic and pioneering film of its era, much like Star Wars, a film that owes much of its core plot to the influences given by the John Carter serial series. John Carter is definitely worth a rental just to see how good the movie looks, but a purchase should be withheld for serious fans or AV enthusiasts, as much of this has been seen before.