Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Thomas Haden Church, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, Bryan Cranston, James Purefoy , Polly Walker
Fordham University '15
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley
Review By: Kieran Newton
The reception for John Carter was the definition of “panned”: big budget action movie at a major studio falls flat at the box office, and the critics crap all over it. I have to say, though, I’m not sure why the public and the press reacted so negatively to this movie. The story, while requiring a certain level of brainpower to follow, wasn’t nearly as annoyingly obfuscated as other, more cerebral releases, and the acting and script were actually a good deal better than most. Overall, I liked John Carter for what it is—it’s not a film that’s trying for any awards, it knows how to have fun, and it looks great. It was released a little early to be called a “summer movie”, but I think this film deserves more than it got.
Then again, I’m a lover of comic books, and John Carter is very much based around the comic series spawned by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original story. This, perhaps, is my favorite part of the film—it absolutely has the tone of a pulp comic. Ex-military renegade in the Wild West is looking for a cave of gold in the mountains, finds an interstellar traveler, and proceeds to be transported to Mars, where he’s caught up in a civil war? Sounds good to me. Honestly, it’s a story that’s far more compelling than most big-budget action flicks (Terrorists! Rugged alpha male! Tits galore!), and never devolves into cheese or sap. The love story is artfully told, and the civil war undertones have a special resonance with the protagonist, whose own home has just survived a civil war of its own. It’s not the best tale ever told, but it does the job, and well.
That being said, the film does have its problems. Taylor Kitsch, who plays the protagonist for whom the film is named, has a very…different visual effect than the standard Hollywood star. He’s effective, but he’s not charismatic enough to really carry the film, so that job is left to his supporting cast. Willem Dafoe picks up the reins quite nicely as the six-armed green alien Tars Tarkas—he gets a good deal of help from the great visual effects, but his performance is top notch. Lynn Collins is pretty good as the love interest, Princess Dejah Thoris, and the occasional sighting of Mark Strong as a member of an ancient of galactic watchers is a welcome addition. These little additions don’t do enough to make the overall acting solid enough to really enrapture the audience.
Technical elements are at their best here, though. The film looks phenomenal, from the artificial landscapes and airships to close-ups of the rather colorful natives of the planet. The one critique I might have is that it all looks a little too clean—the story is intense enough that the overall world could have been a lot grittier. As
The BluRay, though, adds quite a bit to a decent film, making the purchase probably better than seeing the film on its own. Disney is another company that is pioneering that “second screen” tech, utilizing iPhone and Android to give lore and backstory to the world of Mars (or, as it’s called in the film, Barsoom) that’s actually really neat. There is a very cool (but admittedly too long) featurette that details a single day on the set of John Carter, which I suppose is geared toward the reality TV crowd, along with a plethora of deleted scenes with commentary from director Andrew Stanton, a cool featurette about Edgar Rice Burroughs, and some really lame bloopers. Oh, and full feature audio commentary. Blech. Hey, they can’t all be winners.
So John Carter may not be a fantastic movie, but it certainly deserves more credit than the critics gave it. In my opinion, the BluRay is the best way to watch it. It’s worth your time.