Tuesday, September 4, 2012

John Carter Movie Review

Way back in the early 1900’s an author by the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a series of pulp fiction stories. It was originally serialized as Under the Moons of Mars and was later published as a novel called A Princess of Mars. Ten sequels followed over the next three decades. Disney had bought the rights to make a film version of this book series back in the 1980’s. After being abandoned many times, Andrew Stanton (director of Pixar’s Finding Nemo and WALL-E) stepped up to the plate. Finally we received the John Carter movie in 2012, on the centennial anniversary of the first publication.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a world weary Civil War veteran who is tired of fighting other people’s wars and for their “noble” causes. While escaping being drafted into another battle for the military, he seeks refuge in a cave where he finds someone holding a strange medallion. When Carter touches it, he finds himself transported to a strange place where he can leap incredible heights and distances, as well as possessing amazing strength. Carter becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict among the inhabitants which include an alien leader Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and a human-like Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Carter learns from Dejah that he is on the planet earthlings call Mars and that his superhuman strength is caused by the lower gravity on Mars. Their world is on the brink of collapse and only John Carter has the power to end the conflict.
Something to take into consideration is that the setting in John Carter is based on now-obsolete ideas that were popularized by astronomer Percival Lowell in the early 20th Century. This is why there is life on Mars and a breathable atmosphere in this sci-fi/fantasy story. It’s also based on pulp fiction, which is known for its over-the-top ridiculous action sequences and unrealistic settings. If you take all of that into consideration, John Carter is a more enjoyable movie.
Even when taking that kind of source material into consideration, the physics were a bit silly. Carter leaps 20 stories into the air because of the low gravity on Mars, but he still falls at the same speed he would on Earth. You’d expect his legs to break once he hits the ground falling that fast, but of course that doesn’t happen. Furthermore, Carter and the tribal aliens he teams up with bring swords and spears to go into battle against flying ships with laser cannons, and they still somehow manage to put up a decent fight. I’m going to use the “pulp fiction source material” excuse for that, too. It’s just visually a bit hard to swallow.
I’ve now seen Taylor Kitsch take on three different characters; Gambit in X-MenOrigins: Wolverine, Lieutenant Alex Hopper in Battleship, and John Carter. Yes, they are all action movies, but he really does an impressive job portraying different personalities. He’s far from a favorite of mine; I haven’t always liked the roles he’s played (such as Gambit), but he is a pretty good actor and did a fine job as John Carter.
John Carter didn’t seem to know if it was for kids or adults. On the one hand it has plenty of humorous scenes. I liked the part where he’s trying to adjust to Mars’ gravity. But on the other hand, it’s also kind of violent; decapitation and heavy-duty sword play aren’t uncommon here. I suppose that since the alien’s blood is blue, Disney assumed it wouldn’t be off-putting for younger viewers. Really, it’s not too bad, but I don’t think I’d want anyone under the age of 8 to watch it.
John Carter is a fun movie. The editing is a bit choppy and the pacing is kind of slow. It’s exciting, funny, and its visual effects are not bad. It is pure, joyous, escapist adventure cinema. You really have to take it for what it is; a fun action movie that requires very little thought. Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for writing the Tarzan stories, but you can see how this sort of material (circa 1912’s) influenced a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and superhero adventures. If you like those kinds of stories, you’ll probably enjoy John Carter on at least some level. You just have to take some of it with a grain of salt. I enjoyed it, but not enough to want my own copy to watch over and over again. I recommend seeing it, even if it is another attempt for Disney to strike gold like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s worth the cost of a RedBox rental, but not the cost of the Blu-Ray.

Do you have a favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie? Like, where you're not sure if it's one or the other? What is it? Comment below and let me know!


  1. I liked John Carter even without taking where the story came from into account. Sometimes it’s good to watch a movie and not think too hard on it. John Carter brought something to movies that you don’t really see too much: a jump from civil war days to futuristic (?) Mars. That’s the one thing that made me enjoy it even more because I wasn’t sure if this was a knockoff of Clash of the Titans. I just recently rented it again through Blockbuster @ Home for my kids who really enjoyed the movie. I just added it to my queue and two days later it showed up in the mail. It worked out great because I just might end up buying this movie for them for Christmas. I work at Dish so I’ve been using the service for quite some time. Sometimes watching the kids go “whoa!” during the movie makes it all worth it even if I think that the movie isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen. John Carter isn’t the best by far but it definitely kept myself and the whole family engaged.

    1. Great! I'm glad you enjoyed the movie! Yeah, it is nice watch a movie that doesn't require too much thought from time to time. For me, analyzing the movie is part of the fun. But I realize that's not everyone's cup of tea. John Carter was a movie you shouldn't analyze and pick apart too much.
      I'm glad your kids enjoyed it, too! Experiencing that "whoa!" moment with other viewers (or your kids) really is fun and exciting. I still thought John Carter might be too violent for younger kids; I'm curious what age range your kids are and if they thought it was scary at all.
      John Carter certainly was something you don't see often. Historical Fiction and Sci-fi? Another movie you and your family might enjoy is "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." It's kind of science fiction according to the early 1900's. "Historical Sci-Fi?" Not sure what you'd call that.
      Thank you very much for your comments!

  2. Good review Dustin. Kitsch could have definitely been a little bit more charismatic but the flick still works due to amazing special effects and some really fun and exciting action. Sad thing is that this flick was made for $250 million and won’t make any of it back.

    1. I think he wasn't charismatic very charismatic because he had become cynical and angry at the world since everyone wanted him to fight for their cause at his own expense. Yeah, he could have been a bit more of a fun character as the main protagonist, but given his background I didn't think it was unjustified.
      Yeah, I heard John Carter was a big financial flop. I didn't think it was that bad. I thought there was enough action and fun visual effects to keep movie goers who enjoy that sort of thing entertained. Oh, well. I thought it was okay for what it was.