John Carter (2012) Review (PG-13)… And A Day Late.
John Carter is director Andrew Stanton’s first foray into live action (or semi live action considering more than half the characters aren’t human). He’s been the helmsmen on several solid offerings from Pixar, the animation studio that can (almost) do no wrong. This is better than most of the big summer blockbusters that are churned out each year with all of the emphasis on the video game-like special FX. It’s not, however, up to the level that I would have expected from the director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo. I don’t think Stanton embraced the pulp origins of the character enough to allow for some of the less intelligent moments of the film. There is some cartoonish silliness, also, but you’d expect that considering who’s directing. The trouble I had with the movie was mostly that it was far too familiar. I know this predated films like Avatar and Dances With Wolves, being the baby of Tarzan scribe Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I would have hoped that they could have gotten away from the ‘disillusioned white guy goes into a foreign land, becomes the greatest warrior of said land while bedding the hottest babe that land has to offer, all the while leading an uprising of the primitives against their evilwhite oppressors’… I don’t have a problem with that other than it’s just too darn predictable.
I also thought this could have been told a little clearer. The film opens with an overly wordy explanation about the planet Mars (which isn’t called Mars, it’s Barsoom). Then the viewer is immediately treated to a big battle scene between two groups… These are the people of Helium and the folks from Zodanga. Zodanga has been busy destroying the environment (lowering my face into my hands…. faced with this plot again, are we?…. regains strength to continue…) and they’re looking to wipe out Helium, which is probably the last remaining folks on Mars… I mean Barsoom. That is, except for the Tharks, a horde of large green warrior alien tribesman with tusks extra sets of arms. Anyway the battle rages and just when the Zodanga warriors are getting the upper hand, Mark Strong shows up. He’s a villain in everything now. Robin Hood. Green Lantern. Sherlock Holmes… Anyway, he’s one of the mythical ‘Therns’… I swear I’m not just making this up as I go along… The Therns drop in and give the Prince of Zodanga, (get this), Sab Than… That’s right, Sab. Than…They give Sab a CGI animated energy weapon to really up the ante on the people of Helium…
Then the film cuts to the Big Apple (if I remember correctly) in 1881…We quickly meet the dapper John Carter trying to elude a mystery man in black on his way to the telegraph office. He sends a telegram to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs… Yes, THAT Edgar Rice Burroughs. Edgar travels to New York and immediately finds out that ol’ John has kicked the bucket and left a sizeable fortune to him. He also leaves behind his journal, which begins 13 years before this, so we get another jump in time as Edgar reads…. Still with me? It’s probably best if I just leave the rest to the viewer… As complicated as it sounds, it goes downs a little smoother onscreen. I do think, Stanton and the editors could have done a better job telling the story, though. I think the initial battle scene, for instance, was unnecessary and too early of a ‘reveal’ of where Carter is headed. Everything that occurred in the opening is just repeated later. i also think the bit with the author should have bookended the film. I don’t think this needs to deteriorate into a “Hollywood… I CAn Fix Your Film’ segment, though.
As I said, there’s lots that was predictable… When a Thark pronounces “Tharks DO NOT fly” you can bet the farm that Tharks will be flying. When John has dreams of a pretty blonde woman telling him to “wake up for breakfast”, it’s not hard to fathom why John is so disillusioned at the start… No, wait, not at the start… In 1868… Not 1881. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that Stanton wasn’t offering up too many surprises, but it’s done as well as typical summer action/fantasy fare is, so it was entertaining for the most part. There’s not a lot of interest in historical accuracy or anything. The world-views of the characters are as contemporary as the filmmakers, so much so, that we just don’t get Dejah Thoris, warrior princess of Mars… Barsoom, I mean… but Dejah Thoris, warrior princess and greatest scientist of Barsoom. They didn’t go entirely accurate with a lot of details from the source material, either. I believe the Martian/Barsoomian people are described as having red skin in the books. Here the people are described (at least by the Tharks) as being reds and whites, but really they’re just all white people causing all of the trouble. Even the bald headed Therns. Darn white people, always messing up the environment while warring with one another and everyone else. I wouldn’t have minded a Rated ‘R’ Dejah Thoris wardrobe, though. She didn’t wear much in ‘A Princess Of Mars’… My own ‘toon version commission I did of her can be seen here. I um… Emphasized the red.
This probably sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Is it a GREAT film? Nope. It was fun, though. It had humor all through it, and who couldn’t love loyal and loveable Woola the Calot? Did I mention him? I know, more goofy names, but trust me, you’ll probably like Woola. The main actors Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins are, as critic Roger Ebert put it; ‘serviceable’ enough, meaning they were adequate for the movie.
The aforementioned Mark Strong’s played probably his least menacing bad guy, but was still villainous enough to be taken seriously. Talented character actor Bryan Cranston turns up yet again. I’ve seen him in a lot of films lately, this time with a blonde wig. I was surprised by some of the voice actors I didn’t recognize like Willem Defoe, Thomas Haden Church and the lovely & talented Samantha Morton. There were also some cameos that I didn’t catch until the credits rolled. David Schwimmer and Jon Favreaumade cameos and seemd like an odd fit… Weren’t they both set to direct this movie at some point?
Is this the first big summer movie, even if Spring isn’t even here until the 20th? Don’t know… I’m interested to see how it does in the box office department since there aren’t too many filmgoers that have probably heard of John Carter of Mars even though it’s been the subject of books, comic books, comic strips, etc and was written by the guy that brought the world Tarzan. I just listened to a podcast that mentioned the movie (Comic Vine), where the hosts were having trouble with Dejah Thoris’ name… and they’re comic nerds (well, so am I). If they’re having trouble, that doesn’t bode well for everyone else. The names alone are quite a bit to take in. I do hope it does well. I did like it more than a lot of the comic book films of late. That’s not high praise, but praise it be. It even was evocative of the Frank Frazetta and (especially) Bernie Wrightson takes on the characters that I love. The film does leave off with a made to order sequel and answered the question of why they didn’t just call it John Carter OF MARS… I think. But, go see it. I want a better sequel with even more Barsoomian Tharks.