Review: John Carter

Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton (screenplay), Mark Andrews (screenplay)
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins,Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong and Dominic West
Genre: Action,Adventure,Fantasy
MPAA: Rated PG-13

Synopsis: Former Confederate captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is mysteriously transported to Mars (“Barsoom”) where he becomes part of a conflict between the various nations of the planet, whose leaders include Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Carter takes it upon himself to save Barsoom and its people from a growing threat.

Straight out of the gate I am struck by how much I enjoy Taylor Kitsch in the role of John Carter. The John Carter character is a lot more gruff than the trailers would make you think. He looks and feels the part delivering a performance that is more than adequate for what could have been a rather stale and flat character that is John Carter. Early on it becomes clear that something tragic happened to his wife and child or in some manner were killed during the civil war. Although this is such an overused back story it does serve to justify why John Carter is the way he is as a bitter son-of-a-bitch yet surprisingly likable. Carter’s stay on “Jarsoom” (earth) is rather brief and we encounter the Thern a deity like entity with the ability to take on other forms and teleport between even planets with a meer thought.

Alapetian God - Mark Strong as Matai Shang

Right before the Therns are introduced Carter is held by a confederate officer played by none other than Bryan Cranston, albeit a small small role in the movie it is always fun to see Cranston practice his craft.

I am everywhere!

Once on Mars the movie becomes grand in scale, all the vistas are impressive to behold, Mars might be a barren wasteland but it looks gorgeous non the less.  Inhabitants of Mars are well designed, they just feel right albeit initially quite silly but they grow on you.

The 12 foot green 4 armed Tharks whom are the tribesmen of this world as well as The Empire of Helium and its rival nation Zodanga. Tharks have a pivotal role in the story and thank god for it as they are far more interesting than the much more human looking people of Helium or Zodanga. Their culture and society begs to be expanded upon, Tars Tarkas voiced by William Dafoe, Jeddak of the tribe of Tharks that find Carter from the get go is not only expertly voiced but also interesting, torn between the ways of his people and what he feels is just.

This movie has many characters central to the overall plot but I didn’t enjoy some of them as much as the Tharks or Therns most notably most if not all of the Zodanga and Helium characters the dialogue is at its very worst when they drone on about their war, I don’t care about their struggle I am much more interested in the life of the tribes.

Being a huuuuuuuuuuge fan of the show ‘Rome’, to the point its a sickly obsession, there is always that voice in my head that speaks “hah its Ceasar” when I see a cast member. In this film that happened a lot. Early on there is Posca (Nicholas Woodeson) a fantastic actor I wish I got to see more of him happens to have a small role but he delivers. Now here is where it gets just down right bizarre: King of the Heliumites(?) Tardos Mors played by none other than Ciarán Hinds (Munich, Rome). I can see why he was cast in this film and to me this man IS Ceasar and will forever be the picture in my mind when I hear the name. Unlike ‘Ceasar’ Tardos Mors is a mouse of a man who only frets with some of the crappiest lines in the movie. Ciarán Hinds, as much as I love the gu,y it was just sad to see him in a role with such forgetful dialogue. Posca (Ceasars Slave), Ceasar, why not just add Mark Anthony (Ceasers #2) and that is exactly what they did. In comes James Purefoy as Kantos Kan, who’s Kantos Kan… second in command to Tardos Mors. You basically just cast them in the same roles they played in Rome with the difference being that these characters have such cheesy lines that they just do nothing but annoy me and further push me away from giving a shit about their fates. (Even Polly Walker from Rome has a tiny voice role in this movie.)

Disappointing

 

Our leading lady in John Carter is Lynn Collins playing the princess Dejah Thoris (made me think a lot of princess Leia), again the dialogue for her is rather poor but holy shit does she look good. Her outfits make me wonder if im still watching a Disney movie. Lynn being the absolute stunning goddess among women (marry me?) helps me forgive a few lines that I felt were delivered poorly, but again it may as well have been the sometimes way too cheesy dialogue.

"See that lady son? That's what mommy should have looked like"

Another notable character and one of the stronger performance’s in the movie is Mark Strong  portraying the assumed leader of the Therns Matai Shang. His character is crucial for tying all these factions together and making sense of the story. As I reread this post I realize I have not even mentioned the pseudo main villain the Prince of Zodanga (Dominic West), for as much screen time, the character feel progressively less important as the plot develops but West does a good job as the perpetually scowling Sab Than.

John Carter does has a lot of strenghts, the grandeur provided by the cinematography, the use of 3D that rather than rely on the gimmick that is “its coming straight for us!” it remains subtle seemingly only present to add depth to the already impressive vistas.

Pacing was more or less steady and at a good rate throughout, the way the audience is feed the lore of the world and in general how things work, the hows and why. These little packets of must-know-information are dispersed without overwhelming and does a great job of teaching you the handful of alien titles that are used throughout the film. As soon as the current lesson of Basoom 101 starts wearing out its welcome you are moved along to the next plot point. Well done indeed.

 

Silly dog, you make the children laugh

What may come as a surprise is that this movie is violent and I am talking ‘Rambo’ like body count. As a stereotypical male I love me some senseless violence on the big screen but at the same time behind me there is a family of four, mom dad and two kids probably around 8-12 years of age. The scenes with the comic relief marsian dogmonster has them laughing and to be honest I laughed a few times too and didn’t mind that silly thing at all. Now in contrast the action scenes with sword play acrobatics it is dead silence behind me and I can almost feel their horror, haha. You might want to check your views on violence before taking the kids and if you feel that ‘as long as it is aliens or humans with blue blood that eat the dust its ok’ then you are in line with what must be the view over at the ratings board. It sure made me enjoy the movie more but not so sure I would take an 8-year-old.

Basoom come for the barren wasteland, Stay for the refreshing blood baths

The movie is not without some flaws and to me the framing device used at the start of the movie completely ruined any suspense the movie could offer. I felt as if the danger portrayed would easily be overcome and I never feared for our hero. The dialogue was somewhat uneven and far from the star of this attraction which is unfortunate but you remind yourself that you’re really here for the visual spectacle more than anything else. Being that I live in Europe you will not see a ton of reviews from me. At least not reviews on newly released movies. The sad fact of the matter is very few films have a worldwide release, most films I end up waiting for an additional month or more, the best I can hope to do is a dvd or bluray review. Luckily John Carter is a movie with a worldwide release and would you expect anything else from an estimated $250,000,000 movie.

In conclusion I highly recommend you go check out John Carter, it is an enjoyable 2 hours and 12 minutes filled with great visuals, fast action in an interesting world with a fun story to tell.

7 out of 10

Needs to be seen on the big screen.

Please feel free to comment with any opinions, reviews of your own or maybe just to tell me what you thought of the post. If someone saw this movie with their children I would love to hear from you, what was your view of action in this film?

Thank you for reading!

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18 thoughts on “Review: John Carter

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  4. Thank you Isaiah, glad to see people commenting :D

    Not looking good for John Carter box office wise… 30 million leaving quite a bit of ground to cover for the $250 price point

  5. This movie was so good, we are crossing our fingers for a strong weekend take so we can see more John Carter movies. The sub plots were intriguing and kept the story moving, the characters were all interesting and John Carter was so fun as a whole. Did not even realize the movie was more than 2 hours long.

  6. this movie seems a lot like Planet Hulk, well the book came way before Planet Hulk did so vice versa, but enjoyed the review and glad to see it a recommended film, makes want to throw in my Planet Hulk bluray, have a good day

  7. Woah, thats a better comment than I was ready to hope for. Thank you Elliot and you are not highjacking the review at all just makes for a better read.

    Had no clue when or by whom John Carter was created, I was aware that existed long before the movies, just not that it was THAT old.

    Great tip about the books on itunes they are now downloading to my iphone as we speak!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it Erik! And here I was worried I had to write something! I haven’t watched Rome, but a lot of the fans of that series went ga-ga over the casting in this film. The casting was great I thought.

    Watching films, everyone will always take a perspective or an angle where they can personally associate with. From there, for us having to review films, it’s not necessarily a shill but perhaps a sell. I try to write as objectively as I can and play both sides, for myself if I can just get one person to consider watching a movie who might’ve considered not watching it before, that’s enough. Not to hi-jack your review in the slightest, I was thinking about how I was going to write a review for John Carter last night and decided I would’ve gone with the ‘space opera’ route. And how films like John Carter are needed as they’re exactly what movie making is about. The marketing by Disney is the problem for the film, it’s even in the title of the film. The title of the film is actually John Carter of Mars, which adds to the confusion of the audience Disney tried to match with the film.
     
    Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of the Barsoom series, all of the the books (outside of ‘Llana of Gathol’) are entitled “_____ _____ of Mars”. It’s no doubt that Disney wants this film to be the start of a franchise. And when something is planned, at least for myself I’d like the sense of appropriate titles, ie Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc. It feels like foresight conversely where most franchises will just stick a numeric number at the end of a title. Here again, was a franchise that titled it’s sequels a little more elegantly. The one thing I left the theatre with personally, is I absolutely wanted more. It made me want to read the books and I think that says something. Looking up as much as I could after my viewing, nothing short of grabbing the books off iTunes (to which they are all free by the way!). I soon realized there is a TON of meat in the franchise, and this film is just the start. A lot has been said about the enormous budget and it’s simple math to realize that no sequel will happen if the film doesn’t do well. I get the sense John Carter will have worldwide appeal, but it’s a realistic question how much will it actually earn in the end.
     
    Call me crazy, but if anything this first movie could’ve been slightly longer too, but I think there was some hesitancy in respect to pacing and how much to pack in. That’s the difference with say… Avatar vs this film. Avatar is an original story, whereas this is an adaptation. People might bag on Avatar because it’s a story that’s already been done (Dances with Wolves, etc), but it doesn’t try to do anything else than it’s simplistic storyline. In that same sense it’s an easier thing for the broader audience to associate with. And it’s obvious with the marketing that Disney wants everyone watching John Carter.

    Disney has the marketing saying “Before there was Star Wars and Avatar, there was John Carter.” They’re saying that to get people in the seats, to hype the film up. The funny thing though, is that statement is 100% true but they don’t use it for the appropriate reason. ‘A Princess of Mars’ to which this film is largely based upon was conceived back in 1917. For thirty years Burroughs wrote these books as escapism, creating a whole world on another planet, civilizations, races, technology etc. It’s not to say he’s originator, but if you look at our own history, before say our own familiar connotations with George Lucas or James Cameron. And how science fiction or fantasy stories manifested, there was a certain elegance to them which has undoubtedly influenced generations to come whether they’re aware of it or not. So if you look back at all the old space opera type of story-lines there were done in a specific manner. That’s the magic of John Carter. You remember as a kid, maybe your Dad or Mom or favorite crazy uncle told you stories before you went to sleep? Or maybe read you stories where you let your imagination run wild as they told them? That’s exactly how this film is presented. For 2 hours and 12 minutes, you’re a kid in the theatre and your Mom or Dad has said it’s bedtime and you ask for a story before sleep. So they tell you one, and you sit there wide-eyed with childlike anticipation wanting to know what happens next and even when it’s over you want more.

    The criticism is that it’s still a children’s story, if you get what I mean.

    For myself I wonder about the mindset of Burroughs and can’t help but really respect it. The fantasy genre is something we don’t get much in the theatre anymore. So personally speaking, good or bad, I want to support films that attempt to bring that sense of ‘escapism’ back to the theatre. Be it sword fighting or science fiction, it’s a real sense of imagination at work. Anyway, glad this one hit your theatre locally and you didn’t have to wait so long for a viewing. To anyone else that made it to my tirade, Burroughs is also the creator of another slightly popular character, Tarzan. And if it matters, I would’ve scored John Carter of Mars, 8 out of 10.

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