John Carter, Disney’s latest big budget sci-fi gamble, has suffered a case of horrible marketing. The film has had to climb over some big hills to see the light of day, like a watered down name change and some secretive trailers, but under all of that uncertainty there lies a really good movie. It’s a flawed movie, with several things holding it back from being perfect, but it’s a lot better than everything is making it out to be and sadly it will go by unnoticed. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to dive into the real thick source material with ease, providing you with a plethora of dynamic characters and a great big world to watch them live in.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War vet with nothing left to live for. He’s lost his family or cause in some way or another and he’s just kind of drifting, searching for something big. He finds that big something when he stumbles on a cave, containing one weird looking man and a medallion. He initially takes shelter in the cave with Powell (Bryan Cranston), a war general trying to recruit John for defense, but he’s then transported to the planet Mars.
He discovers that there is living beings on Mars, both in forms of people and green looking aliens called Tharks. One particular Thark named Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) takes in John and protects him from immediate death. Tars explains briefly to John how the Tharks live and what he must do in order to survive.
Things don’t go as smooth as John hoped, and he’s taken prisoner and eventually learns of the humans on Mars. He meets a princess by the name of Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and he learns of the war between two human tribes. At the top of one of the tribes is Sab Than (Dominic West), who is controlled by an evil Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Shang is sort of a god-like being, whose main goal is to control Than and persuade him into taking over the world of Mars in his favor. Than asks for Thoris’ hand in marriage as an act of peace between the two tribes. Worried and uncertain, she escapes before the marriage and ends up running into John.
John must choose his future, by either fighting on Mars and helping Thoris, or finding a way back to his empty home on Earth.
It may seem like a lot to chew, but John Carter isn’t really that hard to follow. One of the film’s problems is the lack of general focus during most of the films first half. You’re introduced to several characters and you get an idea of who they are and what their point is, but the actual story for the film is unknown. Is John simply caught in the middle of this massive war between tribes on Mars? Does John even care about these problems or does he simply want to go home? You don’t really know at first, but the film does find its purpose somewhere in the middle.
The problem with that is it just feels like there’s too much going on at once for no reason. Everything lives in the specific moment, but looking back you’ll ask yourself why director Andrew Stanton even chose to include certain scenes or plot points, because they didn’t add up towards the films general outcome.
Everything does come together at the end, making you want to return to the world for another spin, but it gets there by going all over the place, story wise, and it’s kind of overwhelming at first. John’s got personal demons he’s trying to sort them out and now he’s Thoris’ only hope for keeping her people safe, while facing Matai Shang and his people, while helping Tars and the Thark race. It’s a lot for John to take on at once, but he manages.
And that’s really my only complaint with the film. The story feels like it hasn’t been finely tuned. Stanton deals with so much detail and so many characters. It never gets confusing or hard to follow, but it does feel a little unfocused and all over the map.
Taylor Kitsch has been getting a lot of heat for playing the central character, John Carter, but I think he holds his own just fine. He’s a little stiff at the starting of the film, but he gets better with time. The character is thrown onto an unknown planet, so of course he’s not going to fit in with the rest of the inhabitants of Mars. He looks feels and sounds like an outsider, because he is one. Carter is reserved, holding in most of his drive and conflicts until the battles start up towards the middle of the film. It’s a slow reveal, but it comes across naturally, which helps you connect a lot smoother.
Lynn Collins is the true show-stealer. She’s magnificent as Dejah Thoris. She’s both a kick-ass fighter and a lovely looking princess. Her lines of dialogue have a Shakespearean epic feel to them, but she’s not afraid to lighten the mood and keep things brisk when they need to be. She’s a glowing spirit on the screen that captures your immediate attention from the first frame she’s in. Thoris’ relationship with John is the best thing about John Carter and Collins easily makes up for every problem that can be found in Kitsch’s performance.
The CGI is impressive and makes the film feel big and special. The detail to the Thark race is as good as James Cameron‘s Avatar. You don’t feel like you’re watching special effects on the screen when Willem Dafoe voices Tars, you actually feel like you’re watching a living, breathing character. It’s not as captivating as Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but that’s only because the focus isn’t on Tars; it’s on John and Dejah. The world of Mars is so vividly detailed and characterized, making you feel like you’re a part of it.
One thing worth mentioning is the IMAX 3D. The films 3D doesn’t really feel necessary. It actually makes the colors feel kind of dark and toned down, which is never a good thing. The presentation isn’t as bad as Clash of the Titans, but it just doesn’t feel like it added anything to the overall experience. I’ll be seeing the film again real soon and it will be in traditional 2D.
John Carter reminded me of the first time I saw a Star Wars film. It throws you in a complete state of awe with the world that director Andrew Stanton has created based on Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ novels. There’s just so much going on all around you and at first it might feel a little different, but if you give the film time to grow you’ll be surprised with how magical it really is. I’d love for it to catch on and make some good money because I think Stanton and company would make a great second film, if they learn from their mistakes. There are flaws in the film that hold it back from being great, but it’s still really good and I’m assuming it will only get better with repeat viewings.
The flaws are not that hard to get over, but some are more forgiving than others. I have no shame admitting that I really enjoyed the film, but at the same time I can agree with most of the arguments brought up against the film. They’re valid points, but it all comes down to your level of enjoyment.
John Carter – 7.5/10