Set on Earth and Mars, John Carter is epic in both scale and ambition. But does the film live up to its ambition? Check out our review of John Carter in 3D after the jump.
John Carter is based on the novel A Princess of Mars, which was originally published in 1917. John Carter (Taylor Kitsh) is a former confederate soldier who has fled the battlefields and is living a rough and roguish life. He drinks, he defies the law, and he hunts for gold in the hills. When attempting to avoid capture after his latest adventure, he hides in a cave which is carved in the hillside. In this cave is an object that mysteriously transports him from Earth to Mars.
It’s not immediately clear to John that he has been transported to Mars (or ‘Barsoom’ as the inhabitants call it). His body works differently, the landscape is slightly harsher than the desert he knows, and there are some rather weird-looking creatures around the place. Once he does realise where he is, it soon becomes clear that all is not well on the red planet – in fact, John has landed right in the middle of a complicated civil war between the Tharks and two key humanoid cities. John soon becomes caught up in the war, and decides that he must help end it and bring peace to Mars.
That’s about as much of a plot synopsis as we can give, because after this it all gets a little bit messy. It takes a long time for the movie to flesh out the key places and it’s not immediately apparent who we, the audience, are supposed to be cheering for. There are family feuds, a stock-standard Disney princess love story, betrayals, epic sky battles, and a whole lot of dust. The film often feels more like a series of set pieces stitched together rather haphazardly and not a traditional narrative.
The characters in this film are for the most part wooden, and nothing we haven’t seen before in other epic films. The character of Princess Dejah Thoris, the princess of one of the humanoid cities, and love interest of John Carter, is the most troubling. For such a big Disney film, it’s a real shame that the key female character is so weak-minded and stereotypical. While it initially seems like she’ll have some spunk, she quickly remembers her place and is little more than a very attractive window-dressing for John, and the audience, to admire. On the positive side, the Thark Sola (Samantha Morton) is an extremely nurturing and steadfast female character. She manages to be both loving and yet fiercely independent. It’s a pity the same can’t be said for the princess.
Some of the individual action sequences/set-pieces in the film are very well-done – they are really the most enjoyable part of the film. An epic shoot-out between sky crafts in particular is very fast-paced and energetic. A stand-out scene is a battle to the death, when John is forced to take on two enormous terrifying creatures that look like a mix between some sort of ape and a rough-skinned space alien. This scene is packed full of tension and one of the few ‘edge of the seat’ moments in the film.
The fact that these action pieces are so good makes it a real shame that they decided to make this film in 3D. The 3D adds absolutely nothing to the story or the cinema-going experience. There are in fact large parts of the film where there is barely any 3D, and you can quite easily can watch it without the glasses. Worst still, in the action scenes the 3D actually detracts from the film. It feels like the 3D can’t keep up with the fast moving action and the scenes end up looking like a bit of a blur.
Overall, John Carter is a disappointment. It’s a film with very lofty ambitions that never lives up to them. The confusing storyline means it’s almost impossible to get emotionally involved in the outcome – and if you’re not emotionally involved in a 2 hour+ film, then it’s a rather hard slog indeed.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writer(s): Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews & Michael Chabon (screenplay). Edgar Rice Burroughs (story “A Princess of Mars”)
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, William Dafoe, Bryan Cranston
Runtime: 132 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: March 8th 2012
Images via WhatCulture!