Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novels)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong
Release date: March 9th, 2012
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 132 minutes
Best part: The Tharks.
Worst part: The cliched narrative.
The perfect way to describe this adaptation of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is by comparing it to every classic action adventure film of its type. Charming yet tedious, John Carter is a sci-fi fantasy flick that will leave you underwhelmed, as great actors and a beautiful visual style are dragged through a slow pace and unoriginal script.
The clichés begin with a young Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) reading from the memoirs of civil war veteran and all around badass John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Suddenly we are taken back to the end of the civil war, with Carter looking for lost treasure while trying to avoid both the cruel american forces and savage native american indians. Carter’s dangerous discoveries and run ins with the law of the land lead to his transportation from Earth (Jarsoom) to Mars (Barsoom). With the realisation of his new home comprising of warring factions not resembling any nationality on earth and a spiritual alien tribe, its up to Carter and feisty princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to save the dying planet from the forces of evil, with their hearts skipping a beat for each other along the way.
John Carter is Avatar, Star Wars and Dances with Wolves all rolled into one. The film wears its cliches and influences on its sleeve, without displaying an even vaguely imaginative sci-fi action fairytale simultaneously. Despite this series of books being written in the early 20th century, this film was clearly the result of box office successes such as Avatar and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Carter’s exploration of Mars is surprisingly dull due to the very simple quest our characters are placed in. Unlike Avatar, the film quickly loses focus and spends little time with its most unique characters. Whereas Avatar saw to the detailed exploration of a planet’s native inhabitants, The ‘Tharks’ in John Carter stand only for plot devices and comic relief. Unfortunately, the film focuses almost entirely on the warring Romanesque factions. Despite several clever moments of comedy, the human characters throughout are two dimensional at best while bland performances from British actors Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West prove costly for this already unenterprising adventure. Mark Strong is charismatic as the snarling, shape shifting Thern but suffers from a one dimensional character used specifically as a plot contrivance. This film proves that Hollywood’s fresh crop of young lead actors aren’t up to the task of carrying major Hollywood blockbusters.
“When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.” (Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), John Carter).
Kitsch and Collins are completely dull. Their thick accents and lack of expressions add to the tedium as they soon become uninteresting to watch. Their developing relationship also feels forced upon finding out Carter’s recently troubled past. This largely predictable quest and tale of love among the stars is not without its share of enjoyable moments. The technical aspects of the film reign supreme, especially when dealing with the alien characters. The Tharks are depicted as war ravaged and spiritually guided praying mantises. Their tusks, four arms and slender figures create a wonderful interpretation of the ancient Earth bound tribes from Africa to North America. While their strange body movements and reactions to John Carter himself create many fascinating character interactions. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church provide their usual screen prowess in their motion capture turns as tribe members Tars Tarkis, Sola and Tal Hajus respectively. The setting of Mars is also used to full effect. The idea of undiscovered worlds carved into the bright red planet is expressed through giant mechanised cities, flying machines, scary creatures, gigantic battles and alien inhabitants sticking to the old ways; brought to life through impeccable special effects and sickeningly harsh desert landscapes.
John Carter, for all the bravado and good-will of its typical summer blockbuster vibe, can’t help but trip over its own two alien feet. Despite the epic scope and fine cast, the movie comes off like a slap-dash studio decision. Sadly, Avatar‘s shadow is still too big!