John Carter Movie Review

Jar Jar Binks would have loved this movie

I write these reviews for the science-fiction and comic book fan, not necessarily for the general public.

I believe that a movie has to stand on its own and be complete within itself. My good friend Roy feels that movies can be made for comic book fans. I believe Saturday morning cartoons are made for devoted comic book fans but movies are so expensive they must capture a general audience to be economically feasible.

I will also go out of my way not to give away any spoilers. But I expect comic book readers to know that Clark Kent came from the planet Krypton and became Superman.

I also welcome comments from readers. I enjoy hearing other opinions and like to know what people are looking for in their movies.

I just saw John Carter. I will later post some observations that will include some spoilers and discuss the movie as it relates to the original book and Marvel Comic Series. But there’ll be no spoilers here.

While it took a little bit of time for Civil War hero, John Carter to get to Mars in his first novel, A Princess of Mars, it takes him about 25 min. to do so in the movie. Politically correct, Native Americans are less of an adversary here, then in the book. Fortunately, the movie does not dwell on any science that is necessary to accomplish this feat. But they do first establish that Mars has an environment incapable of supporting life. But John Carter uses an EZ Pass and gets to Mars, without his shirt. I understand his credit card was billed $350,000 though.

On Mars there is a conflict between two warring human groups that hopes to be resolved by the marriage of the Princess of one group to a leader of the other. In the middle, are green creatures with four arms and two tusks. Now how there are humans on the planet that is ecologically nothing like Earth is never explained. And why there is such a diverse different group, the “Greenies”, is never explained either.

This is a superhero movie, the Martian environment allows Carter to jump further and have greater strength. In actuality, he seems to fly and have super strength. As he goes from battle to chase to chase to battle, we see that he is also in vulnerable. Beaten, clubbed, fallen, etc, he has no bruises and never needs to rest. Or eat or sleep. This is a Superman movie.

Superhero movies now have a formula since Superman was released in 1976. The first part of the movie will show you the people and place where the hero is from. This usually contains a few people who will die in the next few minutes. (Jor-El, Matt Murdock, The Graysons, Uncle Ben, etc). Then we will see how the hero gets his power. And then we will have a five-minute humorous sequence where the hero discovers his new powers. Basically, that happens here.

The movie fails in three places for me. The cast, the dialogue, and lack of originality. Taylor Kitsch stars as John Carter. Previously in Friday Night Lights Taylor Kitsch played a low-key character that was great to watch in an ensemble. Now he is so low-key and him lacking in charisma he has trouble carrying the movie and keeping our interest. Actors can be low-key and be successful. Humphrey Bogart did so in Casablanca where he “stuck his neck out for no one.” Kitsch tries to channel his inner Bogart and keeps telling us that he will stick his neck out for no one, but you don’t believe him, he is the hero of the movie. We knew that James Bond would last till the end of the movie in Dr. No and we know that Harrison Ford would last in Raiders of the Lost Ark, yet we cared so much about them that we were at the edge of our seats throughout. Not so here, I just was not drawn into the movie. The dialogue didn’t help. It just seemed to just set up action sequences and not tell us who the characters were. It’s empty.

The gorgeous Lynn Collins plays Dejah, the Princess of Mars. Of course we know when John Carter saves her at the beginning of the movie, the two will be connected throughout, so there is no surprise or suspense here. And when they separate we know they will meet again. They do in the grand finale when she shows up sexier than ever. Its Dejah view all over again. (The theatre got silent as people stop rustling when she was on the screen). I don’t know if Ms. Collins can act because she’s just not given a chance to do so. Again, the dialogue doesn’t help.

The “Greenies” are created by computer generated animation and motion capture. Ever since “The Polar Express, I have become uncomfortable with computer-generated people. The movie industry does recognize this is a problem. Jar Jar Binks was not a big hit in the Star Wars movie. Because the Gollum was supposed to make you uncomfortable in The Lord of the Rings it was successful. A large part of this movie is made up of motion capture, with the “Greenies” and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s not doing well. Some major stars appear as “Greenies” Thomas Haden Church, Willem Dafoe, John Favreau, David Schwimmer in it but you could never recognize them.

The third failure of the movie is not at all its fault. The book A Princess of Mars was written as a six part pulp novel 100 years ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who has a cameo in the movie). A recurring theme, sadly, is with great fiction that takes long to get to the screen. It becomes dated. No I don’t mean there is something here that is old fashion. I mean that every new, innovative, unique idea this story had been stolen so many times that it looks old, most recently in Cowboys and Aliens. These stories evolved into sword and sorcery tales which eventually wound up, as its peak, in The Lord of the Rings, but Conan and Thongor were in the middle. So I went through the movie thinking that I have seen so much of this before. If it had come out 10 years ago it might have looked original.

I certainly don’t know why or how this movie cost $250 million. It seemed like for the entire movie, the actors were in front of a blue screen that would later be filled in with the scenery and special effects. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just not a good one. I give it a C+.

To be in 3-D or not to be? I saw the movie in 3-D. I don’t think that 3-D enhances this movie as it did for Hugo and the Green Lantern. Some of the action sequences and some of the flying sequences just looked terrific. For the rest of the movie it didn’t matter with one exception. 3-D takes away the brightness and a great deal of the detail. Lynn Collins should be seen in great brightness and with the best detail available.

5 thoughts on “John Carter Movie Review”

  1. I think I liked the movie a bit more than you did, Barry. Although I do agree with most of your points. Personally, I thought Taylor Kitsch did a decent job as Carter. It didn’t go overboard, chewing up the scenes as some actors might have done and he brought enough humor to the role to make up for the sometimes silly dialogue. Maybe because I didn’t go in with high expectations, plus used a gift card for admission, so I never felt I was being ripped off.

    I saw the film in 2-D, since as I wear glasses to begin with the 3-D specs seem uncomfortable and I have to take them off periodically. I found the effects and action worked quite well without the extra dimension.

    Have to admit that after growing up with the Frazetta covers for those ERB novels and the thorn pasties she wears in some current comics I thought Dejah Thoris was a bit overdressed. IMHO.

  2. Hi Steve.Thanks for posting.

    We both have a lot in common, I too have been reading comics for 50 years! I didn’t feel I was being ripped off either, I went to the College Point Cinema on Tuesday, where admission is $7, even for a 3D movie. What got to me the most, I think, was I never really thought Carter was in danger so there was not a lot of suspense. And I did have a few laugh out loud moments and should have mentioned that in the review.

    I agree with you that Dejah was overdressed!!!!

    Please post and even start a thread of the movies you see. It doesn’t have to long either.

  3. Steve, I’m glad to hear from someone who liked the movie for a different perspective. I’m actually finding a lot of reviews where people are saying they were surprised how much they enjoyed the movie, so reactions seem to be pretty mixed. Myself, I like the books too much not to enjoy the movie, my main concern is that its commercial performance might discourage sequels, which I would have liked to see. For that matter I’d love to see a cartoon adaptation. I think testing it in that medium might have been a good move on Disney’s part before investing in such a big-budget production. They could have worked out some of the bugs that way (no pun intended with reference to the insectoid Martians).

  4. Roy and Steve:

    I think the publicity about the movie costing so much hurt it. Everyone expected too much. If it went into the theatres without that baggage, people might have just sat back and enjoyed it. I still think, however, that the lead was miscast and was not strong enough to carry the picture.

  5. I agree with those points. The emphasis on the budget drew the focus to the special effects and the Star Wars/Avatar comparisons, making it difficult for the story to stand on its own. And physically, the lead didn’t have the gravitas I associate with John Carter. This is a man who goes to the most warlike civilization in the solar system and ends up the warlord of the planet. You need more than special effects to deliver that persona convincingly.

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