Review by Vives Anunciacion
Published March 9, 2012
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, particularly A Princess of Mars
Much as I would like to make potshots at Mr. Kitsch not knowing which country he is in, I’d say John Carter is a decent film that feels like it tried too hard to make the sci-fi fantasy-romance accessible to most people.
John Carter is a former captain of the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy (if I got my US history correct, that means the eight pro-slavery southern states that sought secession from The Union). Taylor Kitsch, formerly Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and recently geographically-challenged Canadian (oops, I said I won’t take potshots) plays the title character from the state of Virginia.
Searching for his own wealth in the gold-rich mountains of Arizona, a chance encounter with an unknown being transports Carter onto the arid surface of the Red Planet. He is captured by a rifle-toting band of six-limbed, tusked beings called Tharks. Now possessing superhuman abilities thanks to the lower gravity in Mars, John eventually is assimilated into the warrior tribe.
When airships belonging to the warring Helium and Zodanga nations fight above Thark land, John spots humans aboard and quickly comes to the aid of princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Despite his initial refusal, John finds himself fighting for the survival of Helium against the oppressive and technologically superior Zodangas. Along the way, the former US soldier who refused to return to fight in the Civil War would accept his new role as savior to a dying race. Plus or minus the charms of a pretty princess.
Let’s make this clear. It’s a sci-fi interplanetary romance fantasy. Mars, the dead planet that we know it is today, is full of lifeforms in the film. Who shoot rifles. And have water. Which means viewers must leave Darwinian evolution outside the door.
That said, Pixar alumnus Andrew Stanton provides enough action oomph to keep the so-so story a wee bit interesting. It’s a visually stylish actioner that feels kinetic enough to move its story along, except it doesn’t quite feel certain if the story matters enough. That’s the reason for the repeated messages of ‘dying planet’ and Carter being constantly torn whether to return to Earth or to stay in Barsoom. My brain kept shouting, ‘but Mars is a dead planet!’ Never mind that John Carter of Mars reminds people of films like Avatar which ironically have roots in Burrough’s writings. It feels like that other Disney film, Tron: Legacy which by all accounts should be a cool movie, but just isnt cool enough.
In between expository scenes about the Tharks and the warring city-states of Helium and Zodanga are flashbacks to Carter’s life on Earth that would eventually provide gravitas when he finally makes a decision which planet to stay in.
Too bad John Carter didn’t hear about the country where everything is more fun in. The choice would’ve been clear from the get-go. Kitsch would have known, except he was in Indonesia. Oops, there I go again.