MFR Rating: ★ ★
If any film could bill itself as an ‘event’, it would probably be John Carter. 79 years ago there were attempts to produce an animated version which could have been America’s first ever animated feature film, a title instead held by Snow White. Other attempts have been made and invariably stalled, but Edgar’s Burrough’s series has finally been adapted with a whopping budget that’s believed to have spiraled up to $250m, making it one of the top five most expensive film of all time. Let’s add one of Pixar’s finest directing the project (Andrew Stanton, Wall-E and Finding Nemo), a member of the fabulous Friday Night Lights ensemble in his first big leading role (Taylor Kitsch) and a fantastic supporting cast and this film couldn’t have felt much more perfect for me, 3D glasses aside. So, what went wrong?
The whole thing is a rather spectacular mess. To sum up the plot: the Gambidohah are warring with the Flapididodah because Blabidioflah is trying to manipulate Drablilibiflat to gain control of Bomfanalof so that something…well basically, it’s all taking place on an alternative version of Mars, John Carter is a former Confederate General and transported to Mars from Earth because of errr… something.. there’s a lot of war and manipulation, a love interest and a hell of a lot of incoherence and deus ex machina. Couldn’t someone, somewhere turn this into a decent screenplay?!
Apparently the source material has problems with a rather arduous plot but you would have thought in 79 years of production, someone would have got to grips with it. I’ve heard it’s a very influential piece of sci-fi/fantasy, which only makes it more frustrating that it all seems so hackneyed. A lot of it reminded me of the recent Thor, another film full of clunky fantasy dialogue and it shared many similar ideas, but if anything John Carter makes Thor seem positively coherent.
Considering the material they’ve been handed, the acting is passable and Kitsch gives a fairly safe and traditional performance as the hero of the epic. I do however severely doubt just how much the cast understood for themselves what was going on and why their characters were doing what they were doing. If Ralph Fiennes couldn’t explain Horcruxes, what chance do Dominic West or Mark Strong have to comprehend all the nonsense going on here, without any clues towards their character’s motivations? I guess it just shows even the world’s finest need to collect a pay check, although it’s probably deserved.
There are moments that are well done, the white apes scene for one which is rather exhilarating. But such moments are too sporadic. The unnecessary 3D really makes the world feel false and alienating by emphasizing the synthetic, computerization. At least in terms of scenery, Mars is shown as an extremely desolate looking planet and it’s hardly the visual spectacular that is Avatar, although both films suffer from similarly dreadful plotting.
The film makes it very clear that it’s hoping to produce sequels. To be honest, if I were Disney, I’d worry more about getting that $250m back in the first place.
John Carter is out on 9th March in the UK and US. Running time 132 mins. Certificate 12a (UK).
Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.
Review by David Rank