Good day to you ladies and gentlemen, today I come to you with a new film review and it will be on the recent sci-fi action film John Carter.
Never before have I ever seen a film of such a high magnitude fall victim to such a questionable situation with its critical reception and box office numbers. I mean from what I know John Carter as a film is adapted from very rich source material called Barsoom which was a 11-volume series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. And it is was that source material from the novels that influenced directors like Jame Cameron and George Lucas when making Avatar and the Star Wars films. So with all of this influential material and the novels looking like the basis of every great science fiction adventure film, it is hard to believe that the material could be adapted into something bad. Upon the film’s release there were critics that said it was great, while many others said that it was just okay while many others said it was terrible. But I believe the main thing that hurt John Carter was the box office numbers. So far it’s failed to rake in enough cinema-goers to make its money back, it cost $250 million to make which is an absurd amount of money and currently it’s just short of that at around $234 million which is pretty tragic really. So is the film really that bad? Well read on into my review to find out.
The plot of the film is set in the 1800s and it focuses on the main protagonist, John Carter. A man from Virginia, he’s a natural-born fight whose fought in the Confederate Army and at that current point in time he was tired of war, didn’t take shit from anyone and was obsessed with finding his treasure of gold. However through a series of events he happens to find a medallion, say some magic words and gets transported to Mars (also known as Barsoom to inhabitants of that planet). So when he’s on Mars he discovers that he jump higher and has increased strength due to his higher bone density and Mars’ lower gravity. He then comes across a race of green aliens with four arms who witness his newfound powers and take him in, meanwhile on the other side of the planet there’s a princess called Dejah Thoris who is being forced into marrying the antagonist in the film because with that deed done he can end the war with his power, but the princess isn’t down with that so she attempts to escape, then meets up with John Carter and then they get to know each other and form an alliance. And now moving onto the antagonist Sab Than, a man who’s been given a great power called the Ninth Ray and under the influence of ancient powerful entities called the Thern he is destined to take the princesses hand in marriage to end the war. So somehow Carter is drafted into this war, while he is also trying to find a way of getting back home…
Confused much? Well if you said yes then you are not alone. I know that wasn’t a very good plot description but the fact of the matter is that there is many layers to John Carter, it would be hard to talk about the film without going into specific details about characters and story. The film’s main problem is that it has too much story. There’s too many layers and its mashed together in a very choppy and unorganized manner. John Carter’s story starts on Earth and there’s a lot of story there involving a lot of characters past and present, then you have the several events that take place on Mars and all the characters he interacts with, some of which have their own backstories and then you have the history of Barsoom (Mars). That’s a lot of material to cover in around 2 hours. There was too much source material to work with and while the story gets clearer as events play out on Mars, it still gets lost in translation at many points. I reckon that this film could have been split into 2 halves, though finding a clear-cut off point would be difficult, but I feel that approach would have benefitted the film much better especially with all of the back story that comes with Barsoom and Carter’s history on Earth.
The cluttered story also makes for some awkward pacing over the course of the movie. It really felt like the film didn’t allow you to process the information it was trying to give you, much like Clash of the Titans and Green Lantern. I mean you are given the whole history of Barsoom at the beginning of the film, but it feels like it was breezed over and not given enough breathing space.It would have worked better at a later part of the film through a descriptive back story by one of the inhabitants that Carter encounters. You also have John Carter being on Mars, adjusting to the fact that he’s on another planet with light gravity, he then comes into contact with the green aliens just a little while afterwards, then there’s another new storyline with Dejah thrown in, and then there’s the whole thing with the Thern and Sab too. And the way you cut from scene to scene without enough time to take in is very frustrating because there are moments of emotion and good action, but they are all too brief and over in a flash. And it is because of this awkward pacing that we don’t get time to properly get invested in the characters or believe the budding relationship between Carter and Dejah, such a shame.
Also when the film was going through like the first act on Earth I was like “What the hell is all this shit? Where’s all the action and adventure from Mars? When does he get to Mars? Skip this shit, I wanna see Mars!” When you are thinking about all of those things before a film has even gotten into its element then you know its got problems. Basically the first part of the film dragged, it had awkward editing, pretty dull characters and that part of the plot I didn’t really care about. And even after we get to Mars and things become more interesting, there’s still awkward, choppy and incomplete moments that arise.
Other failings of the film come in the form of its dialogue, characters and the film’s overall tone. Some of the stuff that happens in this film is actually weird or completely ridiculous regardless of whether its meant fictional. The dialogue is okay, but a lot of it is cliché and pretty lame at points. Secondly the characters in the film are the kind we’ve seen a good few times before except a lot better in those other films, Taylor Kitsch as John Carter is alright and did what he could with the role, but I feel like he was just a bit boring at times and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris was pretty and not half bad acting-wise but overall just a tad annoying and lacking in likability. Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas was probably the most memorable of all the characters because he had personality and was actually pretty cool and when it comes to Dominic West as Sab Than he was just the generic villain, no layers to him whatsoever and Mark Strong as Matai Shang was just Mark Strong being himself, an interesting character but a little dull. But the third and final thing that bugged me was this whole lighthearted Disney feeling that was sprinkled all over the film, from the comedic scenes to some of the dialogue or the choice of music. It felt very Disney-like, like watching old Disney animated films. That atmosphere created made John Carter feel like it was intended for children and dumbed down for adults, it was quite annoying like some of the scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.I made a good few comparisons to Disney’s Aladdin due to the characters, plot and setting. But then the tone of the film keeps switching between kiddie and then adult when there are scenes of war and violence, especially when you see people being killed and decapitated. So you have to wonder what kind of tone was this film going for.
Remember all this chaos and action-packed scenes from the trailers and posters? Well you have to wait for all that stuff and sit through half of a film that feels like its part of another film.
So after all of this hateful comments I’ve given to this film you probably think I hated it right? Well I didn’t. Before this film came out I thought it was just another Conan the Barbarian except it’s in space, but luckily it wasn’t nearly that bad. When I left the cinema screen I was bemused, I found myself liking the film, but it was hard to pinpoint the balance between how much I liked with how much I disliked. As I said before the film frustrates me because there are aspects of the film that do work, John Carter’s past and present story was a deep one and the adventure he goes on is pretty incredible, BUT that is offset but the execution of this film which defeats the elements that the film is trying to sell to you as an audience member. For a film that is meant to be basis of most other science fiction films it sure does pay homage to other films like the recent Stars Wars Episode 1 to Star Wars Episode 6 with the podracing and speeder chases sequences and there’s some obvious parallels to Avatar too.
In the end John Carter meets somewhere in the middle; it isn’t completely rubbish or a masterpiece either. While it has some moments of genuine entertainment, it is also plagued with questionable dialogue, a very heavy and convoluted storyline, strange character personalities and awkward pacing. The film is just frustrating because it had a lot of potential and in a way you could see that it could be so much more, but unfortunately it’s just half a good film, half a mess of a film. Watch the film if you so choose, however I can’t recommend it because of how much it a disappointment it was to me.