John Carter – A review

My bus got me home for 7 and I ust finished supper.  This might be shorter than I intended.  Asides like this and the next won’t help either.

I’ve got a lot of ideas this week and a half finished blog about Tim and the crocodiles, but talking about John Carter seems more timely.

It was, apparently, a box office disaster.  Underservingly so.  This was a solid, fun, entertaining action/sci-fi flick.  I can heartily recommend it.  It isn’t without its flaws, but they are not huge.

John Carter is the newest Disney movie.  Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and Wall-E) although this is a far different beast.  It is filled with actors you probably don’t know – although the supporting cast is an incredibly solid mix of Dominic West (The Wire – Det. McNulty), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes – Moriarty) and James Purefoy (Rome – Mark Antony).  The trailer looked like a very generic mess.  And now it didn’t do well at the box office.  This movie needs saving.

John Carter is a former calvaryman from Virginia.  As he searches for a rumoured gold mine and outruns a posse, he is transported across space to the planet Barsoom.  But this isn’t a made up planet – it is the one we can see in our night sky.  The red planet – Mars.  Waterless, filled with giant plains and looming canyons, but with less gravity.  John Carter finds that a simple step turns into a leap and a single blow of his first can cave in a chest.

That’s right because Mars is populated with Martians.  The martial and savage, but honorable Tharks.  The human looking resident of the two cities in an ongoing civil war – Helium and Zodonga.  The mysterious Therns.  And a variety of both vicious and loyal beasts.

Carter is quickly embroiled in the civil war.  He befriends the Tharks and involves them as well.  The Therns seem to be manipulating events from the sidelines.  But the core plot is about Carter fighting for the love of the Martian princess of Helium – Dejah Thoris.

Intriguing, if a bit conventional, plot – check!  Interesting characters?  Check – especially Dejah Thoris and the Thark Jeddak (general/leader) Tars Tarkas.  Cool effects?  Yes.  Exciting action?  Yes – including fight scenes, chases, and environmental hazards. An emotional through line?  Yep.

It is rated PG although there are some scenes of combat that might be intense for younger kids – a villainous Thark is beheaded and a vicious white ape is disemboweled.  (I thought the later was a bit gratuitous in a PG movie, but if the kids are fine with the Rancor’s death this isn’t far different.)  It won’t insult an adult’s intelligence to watch it.

Plus the movie is just fun.  Fun.  Fun. Fun.  It has a brave, solitary hero.  A brave, intelligent, beautiful martian princess.  A brave alien leader – Tars Tarkas.  It isn’t a funny movie, but it doesn’t lack wit.

Here are my quibbles;

  • John Carter speaks with a gravelly “Batman” voice.
  • The sci-fi aspects – the ravaging city of Zodonga – the planes that fly through the air – the power of the ninth ray – not enough time is spent on these for my sci-fi bred interest.  (YMMV)
  • Dejah Thoris may be too beautiful.  Her character is complex with a number of layers, but the camera lingers on her gorgeous eyes.  (It doesn’t ignore her stunning legs either!)
  • It has a ‘princess must marry to save her people instead of for love – oh the injustice!’ subplot.  This is just one of those plots that annoys me – like a carebear stare ending.
  • The villains are played by two awesome actors who get almost nothing to do.  That made me sad.  Sure they get to be villainous, but not – not interesting enough.
  • 3D does the movie no favours.  It is filled with vistas of Mars that are all blurry because they are in the foreground of the 3D shot.  It was really annoying. See this in two-D if you can.  (I spent $19 on an Imax ticket when only 5% of the huge screen was in focus at a time.)

None of these are a reason not to see the film.  If you can’t see it, rent it or buy it, VOD it or PVR it.  Figure out how to go watch it.

This movie owes a lot to Star Wars.  You’ll see touches of it here and there.  But, it is trying to do the same thing as Star Wars – have fun, entertain and thrill.  In many ways it succeeds.  It is no Star Wars, but it aspires to be.  That is pretty nifty.



8 thoughts on “John Carter – A review

  1. Dave Silvestri says:

    I dont know… I think the writing was on the wall when this came out in March… Big screen action sci-fi movies that have any hope come out in the summer.

    Trailer never grabbed me, not surprised it bombed.

    Mark Strong was in the first Holmes movie as Lord Blackwood… Fwiw…

    • Mark Strong – yes. I realized two hours after I wrote this that I had indicated the wrong Holmes villain! I was going to rush back and fix it, but I forgot and fell asleep. Then I was wondering if anyone would catch my error. Personally I preferred Blackwood to Moriarty – as heretical as that sounds.

      The bad timing of the release is another mark against it, but they are trying to move the big movies earlier every year. Hunger Games will be huge next week. Regardless, don’t hold the release date against it. This is a good movie.

      • Dave Silvestri says:

        I also preffered Blackwood as well…

        I went to bed thinking about your blog post and came up with the following…

        It’s a cartoon…

        Sounds likes simplified plot to me
        Princess has to marry the bad guy
        Director is a director of cartoons
        It’s from Disney

        I think there was more to it than that… But that’s the thought that came to mind last night.


        • The plot is actually fairly complex. But it is fairly easy to sum up. Some of the reviews complain that there is too much exposition to explain things. I didn’t think so…

          But it would have worked just fine as a cartoon. That might have been a better approach for marketing.

  2. Robbob says:

    Surprise, surprise but it sounds good to me! 🙂

    the short time spent on the sci-fi is actually from the book. He never seem to give you a full explanation more of let your imagination fill the gaps kind of book.

    • Dave Silvestri says:

      I got that impression (lack of explanation) cause the author knew nothing of Mars…

      • From the Wikipedia articles, he was apparently using cutting edge science in 1912. The vistas and atmosphere were based on what the best telescopes of the time could observe.

        But that would have just been the hook for his audience. The rest is pure fancy I think.

    • I can see that. I’m not surprised. I’m not sure audiences would have appreciated 10 minutes of dialog on the principles and controls of a light flyer either.

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