Before Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and those nature loving blue creatures that lived on the moon Pandora… there was Edgar Rice Burroughs and his hero John Carter. And all of those other cats we mentioned have picked and borrowed and stole and lifted from Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Carter for years, so it seems only proper that John Carter finally gets some star treatment for himself. But that name… I mean Burroughs has probably written the most advanced, imaginative series of novels ever and his central character has the world’s most boring name. Was Bill Smith taken or something? Luke Skywalker… now that’s a swashbuckling name if ever there was one. That nonsense aside, what we have here is Disney Studio’s mega fantasy epic ‘John Carter’ which was… well... we’ll get into all of that in a bit.
In the late 19th century, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has passed away. He’s had his people summon his beloved nephew Edgar (Daryl Sabara) so he can leave his vast estate to him, but most importantly to deliver his personal journal to the young man. Critically, John needs Edgar to read his fantastic story and believe this fantastic story for there are some things John is going to need Edgar to do for him in post mortem.
Going back a bit, John Carter used to be a noble soldier, until something just awful happened that shook his faith in what he does and does not believe in. Now John spends his spare time looking out for John and trying to make John rich. Through a series of exciting events, John finds himself in a cave, attacked by a strange looking man wearing some fancy bling. John touches this pendant and the next thing you know John wakes up in a desert. Maybe Arizona.
Or not. First thing John notices is that he can’t walk anymore. At least not like he used to. After a while he figures out he has like super powers and stuff. Odd. Odder still are the ten foot creatures with four arms riding pimped out rhinos that are shooting at him. I’m thinking John’s not on earth anymore. The leader of these creatures, known as the Tharks, are led by Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and he sees something different in this white ape. Like the fact he has super powers and stuff. So he takes back home like a pet or something.
Eventually John is going to spectacularly make the acquaintance of the Princess of Mars Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), whose life he saves as she attempts to avoid a forced marriage to the completely evil Sab Than (Dominic West). Sab Than is going about the business of destroying Mars, or Barsoom as they call it around here, with the help of the scurrilous Thern’s, in particular Matai Shang (Marc Strong).
After Deja sees what John can do, she’s convinced that he can take up the cause and help save her people and ultimately the planet, but John and his empty heart has had his fill of war and only wants to make it back to earth and retrieve his gold. But we know full well that this isn’t going to last because John Carter is a good man with a warrior’s heart. And Deja Thoris is the hottest woman on the planet Barsoom and would be in the top 100 on planet Earth. Not that this is influencing John in any way… but it is. I can guarantee you if Deja Thoris was ugly he wouldn’t be helping her. Regardless, rest assured that adventurous swashbuckling shall ensue.
When you watch as many low budget, extremely
suspect, sci-fi styled pictures as we do here at
the FCU, you sometimes forget what a big time, big
budget, CGI spectacular mega epic is supposed to
look like. If nothing else director Andrew
Stanton’s ‘John Carter’ will remind you in spun
platinum of how these movies can be. Visually, it
is spectacular. Amazing. This movie is huge and
those Xeon processors or whatever were working
overtime to create these amazingly creative
visuals. Effects like the blue eyes of Deja
Thoris. I don’t know what color actress Lynn
Collins eyes really are, but if they are blue they
can’t be that blue.
So we have established that ‘John Carter’ is a great looking adventure with fantastic special effects that effectively transports the audience to another place and time, but we all know… I hope… that great special effects don’t necessarily make for a great movie and ‘John Carter’ is not a great movie. It’s a reasonably entertaining one, but my goodness is it busy. I know that there is a lot of subject matter to sift through in regards to Burroughs series of Mars novels, and I don’t know what a screenwriter could cut or whittle down in order simplify things for this movie… considering a bunch of stuff was already cut and whittled down… but it is the excessive cramming of stimuli that does ‘John Carter’ the least favors in my opinion. There is so much going on and so many characters, not to mention the plethora varying story threads and cloudy character motivations, that it feels as if there’s no central focus to this movie. I imagine the movie could’ve expanded its narrative a little more, but then the filmmakers either have to dial back on the action or make the movie even longer than it already was, neither of which being viable alternatives.
Ideally, particularly the way these stories were written, one would probably want to keep the movie simple and develop the story over a number of sequels, but considering the high dollar amount it took to make this movie and the strong possibility there won’t be sequels, Stanton and his crew were stuck trying to put as much as they could in this movie. I get that, but it did leave this movie less immersive than it could have and should have been.
Still, ‘John Carter’ was still solid entertainment. Kitsch and Collins were handsome and heroic, it looked great, it moved fast, and with a bucket of popcorn in your lap in front of your local IMAX screen I’m thinking it could be an experience for some. The younger the better. It’s just not the epic, all encompassing experience I was hoping it to be.