Review: John Carter

Ah yes, John Carter, aka "John Carter of Mars," aka "A Princess of Mars."  You single handedly assured that Andrew Stanton of Pixar will never, ever be granted final cut again.  You lost something like a quarter of a billion dollars for your parent company, Disney.

You know I've seen many bad films in my life (current nadir being "Tristan and Isolde"), and John Carter isn't one of them.

It isn't a great film.  Comparison to other alien epics like Cameron's Avatar inevitably come, and Carter does poorly.  We don't truly care about our hero until well into the second act.  Worse, the framework of the story--that John Carter has died suddenly on earth and his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (get it?) is reading his fantastic account of his Barsoon Exploits--just feels like faux epic claptrap right up to the end.

Further, there's much to laugh at:  Plenty of deus ex machina, from a magic potion that is "The Voice of Mars" to actual machina that Carter learns to fly...er...on the fly.  And the NAMES!  "Let us go to the city of Helium...," says the hottie in the bikini who happens to be beautiful, incredibly intelligent, self sufficient in a battle, and yet emotionally needy like a spoiled princess.  And her name's "Deja," as in deja vu.  Which wasn't bad, in that I mentally enjoyed the concept of a woman this easy-on-the-eyes being named "Again."  The fanfic writes itself.

AND YET.  It was entertaining for me.  The movie benefits from Stanton's singular vision and eye for detail and vistas.  In particular, the action set-pieces are quite good without being Michael Bay-esque ADHD disasters.  One can see what's going on and most every inch of the screen is interesting.

Also, there was plenty of character development:  Carter moves from being a shell of a Lost Cause Confederate gold-digger to being a Spartacus-level hero; Deja learns to trust; and the Tharks experience most of the American Indian tropes you've ever seen, with the advantage of being little green men.

Could it be better?  Sure.  Lots isn't explained, not even tantalized.  Issus & the power of the Ninth Ray, for example.Why do the Red Martians look like humans?  Therns?  Lacking a Barsoon equivalent of the Silmarillion, the mythology and consistency of the movie is difficult.


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