(Published in Issue 8 of my publication In Retrospect)
Directed by Andrew Stanton, John Carter (formerly John Carter of Mars) is an epic science fiction action film based on the heroic protagonist of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Barsoom series of novels. Based on his fantasy-romance serial written in 1912, A Princess of Mars, the film tells the story of Civil War vet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who, at the beginning of the film, we are to believe has died. Leaving his private journal to his nephew Edgar (Daryl Sabara), Carter takes us back 13 years to the day, whilst searching for a fabled cave of gold, he was inadvertently teleported to Mars, known to its inhabitants as Barsoom.
Captured by an army of giant, four-armed green martian named Tharks, who are under the rule of the King, known on Mars as the Jeddak, Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Carter is told of the ongoing war between two of the humanoid tribes, Zodanga which is ruled by Sab Than (Dominic West), and Helium which is led by Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds), of whom the Tharks live in the shadows of. Sab Than is now armed with a special weapon, the “Ninth Ray”, given to him by the Thern leader Matai Shang (Mark Strong), and proposes an end to the war by marrying the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). The defiant Princess, however, escapes and is rescued by Carter as they descend on a quest to find a way for him to return home, as the battle becomes a backdrop to their blossoming attraction.
Known for a number of Pixar films including Wall E and Finding Nemo, John Carter is director Stanton’s live-action debut. Whilst the film is brilliant visually, with great CGI effects and realistic enough looking aliens, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot else going for it. The only reason that the film doesn’t completely fail is because of its source material. With a back story to base itself on, the plot of John Carter is constantly solid. Thinking in-depth, you can see how Mars relates to Carter’s hometown, contrasting with the two conflicting countries but where this time Carter is forced to choose a side.
This plot line may be very detailed, which is a huge advantage of the film, but it is very easy to feel a little thrown around. From the very beginning, we go from Mars to Earth then from present to past. On a first watch it’s easy to lose confidence in what has actually happened, and between watching the film and writing this review I did have to question what I had seen. Because of this, a second viewing is definitely needed, an I would recommend it to not completely dislike the film, but it’s still very hard to want to sit through the film more than once.
It’s this lengthy process that ruins the film. Whilst John Carter is full of non-stop action that you would hope to be enough to keep you entertained, the 120 minute run time is far too much to take in. This lengthy process further affects the film’s storyline as, whilst there are very few holes in the plot, it does, at times, seem to get slightly ridiculous. Going endlessly on, there are many parts of the film where nothing seems to be happening, and there is only a very small percentage of the film that is worth remembering.
As for the acting within the film, lead Taylor Kitsch is fairly gratifying under the circumstances of a drowsy film, but it will undoubtedly have set him up for bigger roles in the future, already appearing in Battleship next month. As for his leading lady, Lynn Collins is a great fitting for the role as she works really well with the action side of it. At the same time, however, she is not a very sympathetic heroine, which negatively affects the romantic aspect of her character. Whilst it’s all there on paper, with Kitsch being the handsome hero and Collins the beautiful strong-wielded damsel in distress, it just doesn’t come to life on-screen.
The supporting cast is also a pretty solid one, including Mark Strong in his typical role of evil as well as Dominic West and Ciarán Hinds. Whilst these classy British actors are a great addition to the film, I wouldn’t say that any one of them, in particular, stood out. It’s all just very mediocre, with no performance strong enough to help compliment the non-visual side of the film.
I have to admit that I wasn’t invested from the very beginning so, for me, it had no other way to go. Whilst on a second viewing it was much more enjoyable, it’s very hard to escape the length of the film, especially when nothing grabs your attention within that time to pull you in. The length of the film only further lowers your opinion as it goes on, As a result, John Carter will be a forgettable experience for most of its viewers, who unfortunately will not remain invested long enough to look forward to its potential sequels, which is a shame because it really was a missed opportunity.