Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars was a novel ahead of its time when it was published back in 1917. Its influences on science
fiction can be found in the very first films of the genre right through modern blockbusters like James Cameron’s Avatar.
While many of these films have modernized the formula, John Carter (A direct adaptation) feels very much like a throwback. And not just
because of its late 19th century time period.
John Carter eschews the stark realism that has become so prevalent today in favor of a romantic adventure story that doesn’t concern
itself with dark imagery, antiheroes or the laws of physics.
And it’s in this sense that John Carter has a certain endearing quality despite its many, many flaws. Director Andrew Stanton (Of Wall-E and
Finding Nemo fame) appears to be well aware of how utterly ridiculous this screenplay is and plays it with just the right amount of camp.
It almost works as a guilty, mindless pleasure- almost. The film is just too scatter-brained and senseless for it to be considered anywhere
near a good film.
After being teleported to Mars in the middle of a gun fight in the old west, Carter meets up with the goofy, four-armed, tusked Tharks. His
extreme jumping abilities (due to the gravitational differences between the planets) put him right in the middle of the conflict between the
planet’s two warring humanoid factions.
Here John Carter cuts to and fro with little focus or sense. The primary thread between Carter and the pursued Princess works best thanks
to its constant motion and inoffensive movie banter.
Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins as Carter and the Princess are about on par with the rest of the film. They are decently likeable, but neither
is outstandingly suited for their roles. Although I do admit Collins wears those skimpy costumes about as well as anyone could.
The film becomes increasingly ridiculous as it goes on, with the final act being a hilarious blend of inconceivable character motivation, over-
the-top action and just about every cliché you can think of.
Just when we begin to get over Carter laughably darting across the sky and the goofy animated characters, the film throws in a hilariously
unnecessary arena sequence. Our hero brutally defeats the attacking monsters as well as the leader of the Tharks. The Tharks’ reaction?
Follow Carter into battle, of course!
Then there is the wedding interrupted by the final battle, followed by… another wedding. Well, it was already set up, I guess. Why let all
that work go to waste?
In its defense, though, John Carter can never be called a bore. Its goofy sense of humor, mindless action sequences and sense of
optimism work just well enough to keep us interested; even if it’s to see when this runaway train is going to spectacularly derail. It doesn’t
because the film never takes itself seriously enough to crash and burn.
Production values are decent enough. The visual effects are certainly good, but none of its cartoony computer-generated characters are
overly impressive. I’m not sure if this is a fault of the effects or the design itself, but it never distracts from the film.
The sound mixing is excellent and Michael Giacchino’s romantic, unashamedly adventurous score is a lot of fun. It’s a perfect fit for
Stanton’s outlandish film.
Despite all of its missteps, this film has a certain inoffensive charm to it. Fans of such big, dumb adventures may find something to like
here as I have. Everyone else need not bother. For like a bowl of sugary cereal, John Carter is fun in small doses, but it certainly isn’t
good for you.
(out of four)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton,
Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography by: Daniel Mindel
Released: March 9, 2012; 132 Minutes