aka John Carter of Mars
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon
Directed by Andrew Stanton
As you might expect, I’m a rather big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom stories. I have the whole series in old out of print volumes culled from bookstores across the country. I have many other Burroughs books and other pulp novels. I have the Guide to Barsoom and some other books where Martians show up, and some of the old Marvel comics. You might say I like this crazy fantasy stuff. So, yes, I was excited that we were finally getting our big screen Barsoom film. Then it got renamed John Carter.
After 100 years, A Princess of Mars is finally coming to the big screen (if you ignore Asylum’s DTV Princess of Mars…) as John Carter. John Carter. No “Of Mars”, no “A Princess of Mars”, no nothing. Add to that all the other abysmal marketing Disney did for the film, and suddenly the rumors that this will be the biggest box office bomb in the history of the planet and the red planet as well started to spring up. “Whatever,” I said, because I’ll let the movie speak for itself. And the movie has finally spoken. And it’s good. Not excellent, but good. Good enough that John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) should be doing better at the box office than it is tracking. Good enough that the naysayers were wrong, even if John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) does lose a lot of money, it is not because John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) failed.
That is not to say there isn’t any problems. There are. Some are pretty big. But I’ll get to most of them. But a simple review like this right after watching on opening night doesn’t do John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) justice, so rest assured there will be another, longer, super detailed, mega-ultra-hyper-giga-supreme-double-secret-comprehensive review once John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) is on DVD and I can screencap and watch a bajillion times to my heart’s content.
John Carter is a Civil War veteran searching for legendary cave of gold in the desert when he’s captured by the local army officers (lead by Bryan Cranston as Powell – the name of John Carter’s partner in the beginning of the original tale) and they try to impress him to service of fighting the Apaches. One thing leads to another and soon everyone is shooting at each other and John Carter is fleeing Apaches and troops towards a mysterious cave, with a wounded Powell in tow.
But that’s not quite where things begin, we have three prologues first! First we get a brief narration about Mars. Next there is a confusing opening sequence where evil Martian Prince of Zadonga Sab Than is in an airship fighting other airships of the good nation Helium, when White Martians called Holy Therns arrive, blast everyone except Sab Than, and give him their superweapon to use on his enemies, the good people of Helium. At this point we don’t know who is good or evil during the battle and it just comes off as messy. Finally, we see John Carter send a telegram to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is then told John Carter is dead by the time he gets there, and is given the inheritance of his entire estate and told to read John Carter’s diary, which he does, which then tells the tale back at the gold cave search.
Confused yet? Luckily, it gets better, as when John Carter is in the cave some Holy Thern dude materializes in and tries to stab him, only to get killed and die while uttering some commands, which John Carter repeats and activates the medallion that transports him to Mars.
On Mars, John Carter can’t walk, as his great strength due to increased muscle mass and lower gravity causes him to fly in the air with each step. We get a good humorous sequence of him trying to learn to walk again, and this is the point where the film begins to pick up. Soon he’s captured by Green Martians called Tharks, thanks to their leader (Jeddak) Tars Tarkas wanting John Carter alive after seeing him jump. Soon he’s involved in Green Martian drama, while the Red Martian war has gotten to the point where Helium will be destroyed if Princess Dejah Thoris doesn’t marry Sab Than. She’s not keen on the idea and flees, her airship being attacked over the Thark encampment, causing John Carter to see the Princess fighting and falling, and thanks to his magical leaping ability, he saves her and causes massive Zadonga problems. And gains the interests of the main Holy Thern, Matai Shang.
Dejah Thoris thinks John Carter is crazy, and is not impressed when he refuses to fight for Helium. But he does help her escape, and with Sola, after being aided by Tars Tarkas. After a random stop down river (in elements largely taken from the second book) and in a magic tree that turns out to just be highly advanced technology, soon their being chased by evil Green Martians known as Warhoons. We get a cool battle sequence, then the cavalry arrives, and now Dejah Thoris is marrying that Sab Than jerk unless John Carter can escape Matai Shang and rally the Tharks to save the day. Will he do it? Will Dejah Thoris be forced to do the first royal divorce in Barsoom history and get her face plastered all over the Martian tabloids? Find out by watching John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) or by using logic!
The main foe for John Carter (of Mars, dammit) is the film is uneven at parts. The odd pacing just throws things to loops. Parts of the dialogue are corny as heck, as some characters throw out paragraphs of explanations while doing other actions just to keep things from being bogged down even more. The beginning pacing is especially bad, I understand the need for wanting to keep the whole Edgar Rice Burroughs parts, but it still was not a good way to begin the film. Luckily, after Carter gets to Mars, things go much better.
The whiteness of the desert and the general washed out look of the colors because of all the white and tan keeps John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) from as looking lush and beautiful as other alien worlds like Pandora. It does serve the purpose of the few times there are colorful things, of making them stand out, but that is rarely used and not done in any effect. The rest of the visual look seems like it’s been seen a hundred times before, though a lot of that is because in the hundred years of the Barsoom novels, they’ve inspired everything that’s come after, which is also everything that’s come before in the visual medium. Thus, the scenes that are straight out of Star Wars prequels, the plot that’s still routine even if Stanton tried to spice it up a bit. But even Avatar had a generic plot (most of which came from A Princess of Mars!)
Of course, if you are one of those people who are upset things aren’t just like the book (sorry, buddy, no studio is going to approve a $250 million where everyone is rocking full frontal nudity!), then you’ve probably already went to John Carter (of Mars, dammit!) and hated the film. Perhaps you were the guy who sat right next to me despite the theater being 90% empty, who grunted derisively every time things deviated from the books (which is a lot) and kept shaking your head. Then you should probably eat better and get some exercise, because…damn! Also learn to have some fun once in a while.
Finally, just before the credits roll, we see John Carter of Mars. And it is good.
Rated 7/10 (making the pooch, a spy kid, totally evil, totally not used enough, totally a dad, wedding procession, someone ganked my horn!)
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