Title: John Carter
Who Is John Carter? He's this guy who goes to Mars and...does things. With his...feet.
You Didn't Actually See The Movie, Did You? Yes, yes I did. These questions always fluster me, is all.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Frazettas out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Civil War veteran is transported to Mars. Loses shirt. Kicks ass.
Tagline: "Lost in Our World. Found in Another."
Better Tagline: "Hey, Boys Can Watch Disney Movies, Too, You Know."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has just fought on the losing side in the Civil War and now wants to be left alone to prospect for gold in Arizona, even as the Union Army seeks to recruit him for the Indian Wars. Fleeing from angry Apache, he ends up in a cave shunned by the Indians and accidentally kills a strangely clad man clutching a medallion, which transports the Earthling to the planet Barsoom (Mars). He's captured by the Tharks, a race of Green Martians, distinctive for their tusks and two extra arms, but soon finds himself embroiled in a war between the Red Martian city-states of Helium and Zodanga, and rather taken with Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of the former.
"Critical" Analysis: John Carter is not Great Art. I just wanted to get that out of the way before people started throwing that "4 out of 5" thing in my face. However, it is a thoroughly entertaining adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's second most famous literary creation, with enough adventure and humor to satisfy all but those who are wholly dead inside.
I was as surprised as anyone. Disney's marketing for this movie has been atrocious, veering from stilted to nonsensical, with only passing mention of Mars (a factor somewhat crucial to the plot) and an unfortunate tendency to ignore the fine supporting cast. Strictly going by the trailers, no one could be blamed for assuming John Carter would be a cluster-fuck of Mongolian proportions.
Credit director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo) and his co-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon (Wonder Boy, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) for dodging that bullet and bringing something desperately needed in movies of this type (and sorely lacking from any previews): a sense of fun. No scenes are shot strictly for laughs (well, maybe one), but the script is loaded with witty asides that make the most of the cast, at least three of whom (Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Polly Walker) were in HBO's Rome, which has to count for something, right? And while Willem Dafoe merely provides the voice of Tars Tarkas, his is perhaps the most enjoyable (and exasperated) character in the movie.
There's also a computer-generated dog...like sidekick that is clearly inspired by Dug from Up.
And then there's Kitsch. I'll say this...he doesn't completely embarrass himself. True, he's too much of a pretty boy to believably play a world-weary Civil War vet (hell, Kevin Costner was more grizzled), and is at his best when flexing his mighty deltoids to take out giant apes or an army of enemy Tharks. Some have criticized his lack of chemistry with Collins, but I found their attraction believable, as well as his dismay when the two were separated.
Derived heavily from Burroughs's first "Barsoom" novel, A Princess of Mars, the movie stays mostly true to the author's vision; Barsoom/Mars is both an exotic and stricken land (though it felt at times like someone forgot the color correction, as some scenes make the place look no more exotic than Utah, where much of it was shot). You may or may not be impressed by the sight of the walking city of Zodanga, or the Tharks themselves, but the CG is respectably subdued, and the 3-D is as unobtrusive as you could ask for.
One of John Carter's advantages also works against it. I'll wager few people are familiar with either the character or the Edgar Rice Burroughs series, but it's likely to still feel stale precisely because audiences will perceive it to be derivative of other movies it inspired. I've already heard negative comparisons to Conan, Dune and fucking Avatar, which is laughable considering Burroughs is one of the two or three most influential fantasy authors of all time.
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By not taking itself too seriously and reining in (as much as possible) the F/X aspect, Stanton and company have created that rarest of creatures: a "fun" blockbuster. At its best, it recalls the swashbuckling sensibilities of Raiders, capturing Burroughs's own sensibilities admirably. At movie's end, I was grinning like a dork, briefly wishing I could be seven or eight again in order to see the movie through totally open eyes.
But then I wouldn't be able to buy beer. And third grade sucked.
John Carter is in theaters today. Fuck the haters and check it out.