Goddamn it, Disney! I said WOW me! What the hell was the budget on this movie? Two hundred and fifty MILLION dollars?? You’d think with that kind of price tag attached, they could afford to just have Disney imagineers design some sort of brain washing device to convince me I thoroughly enjoyed their flick. Well the rumor was floating around for weeks that the special effects laden, mega blockbuster was gonna be a mega bust, so I can’t say I was totally surprised by what I got for my matinee ticket price today. And I’m not saying it was terrible. I’m just saying it wasn’t $250 million bucks good.
For those of you unfamiliar with the canon of John Carter, he is the eponymous hero created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Princess of Mars novels, first published in 1912. Burroughs is the same writer who created the original Tarzan that same year. So anyway, JC has been around for a while. Native to Virginia (Virginia Earth, not Virginia Mars), Carter fought in the American civil war on the side of the… well, the bad side. In the comics, a retired Carter is hiding out in a cave from some Indians when he is mysteriously transported via astral projection into a newly created body on the surface of Mars. There on Mars (or Barsoom as it’s called there), Carter has enhanced strength, dexterity, and uh, “jumping powers” due to the lower gravity and his denser bone structure. Naturally Carter uses these abilities to kill him some natives and enforce his pro-slavery view points.
Kidding! I’m actually not sure where Carter falls on the abolitionist/anti-abolitionist spectrum. He does, however, go on to tangle with some fierce and mighty warriors/aliens/armies in a wondrous and expansive tale than stretches across 11 books. I’ve never actually read any of the stories, but from what I’ve read, the movie most closely follows book one in the series concerning John Carter’s arrival on Mars and his first adventure revolving around Dejah, the Martian princess. Wait a minute… is that the same chick from Wolverine up there playing Dejah? And wasn’t Taylor Kitsch, the guy who plays John Carter, ALSO in Wolverine? And didn’t that movie SUCK?? Why the hell would you reunite these two???
Well unfortunately for Disney (and Channing Tatum), gorgeous does not automatically make good cinema. John Carter suffered from several problems, the first one for me being that everything and everyone on Mars has a foreign and nearly unpronounceable name. And I get that. I get that when you’re creating entirely new worlds, things are gonna sound funky. It wasn’t always the case that words like “jawa” and “wookie” were part of the everyman lexicon. But you know what else Star Wars had? People with easy, monosyllabic names like Luke, Han, and Leia. Familiar words like “empire,” “rebellion,” and “blaster.” After 2 1/2 hours, do you know how many characters I could name? One: John Carter. And I LOVE paying attention to that stuff. The second problem, and only adding to the confusion, was the way they set up the good aliens and the bad aliens. There are a bunch of different races all coexisting on Mars, but the main conflict of the movie is the ongoing war between the feuding cities of Helium and Zodanga. These guys REALLY hate each other, which is fine, but they look exactly the same. Like exactly. The wear the same armor. They have the same tattoos. They drive the same vehicles.
Literally the only difference between the two is the hint of blue or red draped behind their shoulders. There’s even a little joke at one point by one of the soldiers pointing out exactly how hard it is to tell them apart. I’m not saying that every bad guy needs to look like an orc or be encased in white plastoid body armor, but it sure as hell helps to know who’s who.
Anyway, the story definitely felt a little forced, a lot of the characters fell flat, and I found myself looking at my watch long before the “climactic” finale. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who everyone was and why anyone was doing anything. Not a great sign for an epic saga of war, love, and adventure. I suppose they still did their best to shoehorn in as much action as possible, even if there was no good reason. And I’m certainly not one to complain about gratuitous action sequences.
Long story long, it’s still a visually stunning piece of movie making that’s probably best experienced in the theater, but I’d recommend going in with low expectations. It’s a fun bit of popcorn cinema with some truly impressive graphics, but that’s pretty much the strongest endorsement I can give.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think about it? Let me know in the comments below!
~ Jonny Green