John Carter: A Review

John Carter is a movie based on a literary character of Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Barsoom books that were initially released in 1912. The books were about the adventures of about a United States Confederate Army captain who accidentally finds himself in Mars (Barsoom) after a tussle with a mysterious figure known as a Thern in a cave in Arizona. As he wakes up, he finds himself armed with special abilities of jumping really high and having superior strength, which magnified his proven skills in battle. Because he is unfamiliar with his new environment, he is captured by four-armed green men, known as Tharks, but he is spared by their Jeddak (king) Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) to serve as his pet.

As John tries to escape from the Tharks, he comes between the assault on princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins)of Helium who is being pursued by the Thern Matai Shang’s (Mark Strong) anointed one, Sab Than (Dominic West) , ruler of Zondanga, who seeks to rule over the whole planet by using the destructive powers granted to him by the Therns. As his talents and fighting abilities are revealed, John is convinced by the princess to use his powers to free Barsoom from Sab Than’s tyranny while on the other hand, Tars Tarkas expects him to be a warrior of the tribe.

John Carter got mixed reviews when it was shown in regular cinema and for good reason. The film, a fantasy adventure, had the makings (and the budget) to make the next great franchise, but the problem was that it seemed like a clone of many great fantasy movies that came before it. The general setting felt like an echo of Star Wars, and even the characters took their cue from the George Lucas classic — the Tars Tarkas looked like a cross between Jar Jar Binks and Hell Boy’s Abe Sapien, the hound Woola looked like a cuter version of Jabba the Hut. The costumes and even the princess looked like knock offs from the Game of Thrones’ Dothrakis and The Prince of Persia. For a studio (Disney) that prides itself in leading the pack in creatives, I could well understand people’s high expectations and their disappointment when the movie did not deliver.

Another thing of note was the sheer length of the movie that was mostly focused on dialogue. Being an action adventure with an interplanetary premise, one would think that there would be a lot more going on that an occasional sea ship chase, some battle scenes mostly rendered in CGI and walking around in the desert. By the end of the first hour, I was genuinely surprised that the story was already halfway with no memorable scenes to remember. While Taylor Kitsch has a flair for portraying imperfect heroes in his movies, John Carter did not give him much room to establish his character as someone that people will want to root for, despite his lengthy exposure. I’m not exactly sure why that is but up until the end, I was still trying to figure it out. The chemistry between him and his leading lady was also somewhat lacking despite both stars being charming in their individual rights.

The story was good and I especially liked how they closed the film (not the JCM logo). The visuals were great as well, but somehow, John Carter just wasn’t able to connect or spark that adrenaline rush in the same way that Avatar, or Star Wars did. My favorite character of the lot was Woola, the CGI hound, and I say that counts for a lot, when the CGI is making the connections that the human cast could not. If it were left to me, I would have utilized Mark Strong and Dominic West who are very strong character actors to amp up the villainy if only to get people to emphatize with the geographically challenged hero (a description I adopted from an earlier review).

All in all, still a good effort from Wall-E and Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton on his live action debut. I loved his two animated movies but I’m still on the fence about this one. I’m not holding my breath for a sequel though.