Review: John Carter (2012)

Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe

Putting aside the notion that John Carter marks the second live-action debut for another lauded Pixar alum, there’s no denying that franchises based on literary mediums have attempted to mimic the success of Harry Potter and the like. Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel “A Princess of Mars,” of which was published prior to the 1920s, John Carter‘s translation to the big screen is indeed a head-scratcher, considering the story itself is so steeped in its own self-indulgent, “hard” sci-fi intricacies that adapting it this far down the line seemed a bit ludicrous from the get-go. Ludicrous is one way to describe a bulk of the film, of which has little going for it outside of the Disney brand and the inherent likability of its CGI-riddled visual panache.

Everything about John Carter, brief glimpses of the protagonist’s troubled past included, feels peculiarly hollow and devoid of any real emotion that would serve to make any if not all of the characters a bit more dynamic. Instead, we’re provided with a prototypical, convoluted sci-fi epic littered with subplot after subplot that supposedly have much to do with the film’s frail central story arc involving age-old racial tensions and an unavoidable battle for supremacy on the planet of Barsoom or, as we and Mr. Carter know it, Mars. Of course it’s a wonder to behold what modern technology has done for Burroughs’ nearly century-old literary debut, allowing us to feast our eyes on vast, meticulously crafted landscapes, beautifully rendered otherworldly creatures and even above average action sequences that we start to miss as soon as they’re over.

While the action remains one of John Carter‘s few high points, I found myself unable to really invest in the beyond ordinary goings-on of Barsoom’s inhabitants, from omniscient, shapeshifting super-beings to the four-armed “Green Men” (with tusks) that Carter establishes a fragile alliance with early on, everyone’s so steadfast in their one-track-minded intentions that nothing really comes off as particularly intriguing. This is mostly due to how dated the source material is, which for its time was probably out of this world (no pun intended), and I’ll admit to not knowing just how many liberties were taken with it, yet to deny the film’s sheer sense of bland predictability regarding its assorted brands of conflict would be rather difficult. Scattered jabs at humor come off as mildly effective here and there, but outside of how distractingly over-the-top John Carter‘s visuals are, there’s truly little to appreciate.

Stanton does what he can with male lead Taylor Kitsch, and I’m sure to garner some detractors here, but the performance in question just comes off as hammy and particularly unworthy of those who’ve made similar transitions from nobodies to leading men and ladies. Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and even Mark Strong shine in their respective supporting roles, exuding as much charisma as possible to partially compensate for the unappealing majority of the entire production. A shame, but true in my mind nonetheless.

As one of 2012′s hopefuls, John Carter was quite literally one of very few titles I had my sights set on during this year’s lackluster first quarter. To say that it disappointed me in several respects would be spot on, relying heavily on its convoluted, highly imaginative roots to tell the tale of the legendary figure at the film’s core as well as obvious technological advances that have done wonders for the project at hand. Visually stunning as it may be, its singular panache becomes quite distracting as lesser happenings plague the film’s slower, slightly more uninspired moments. Ambitious as it is, John Carter falls flat in aiming to be Disney’s next big thing. Agree or disagree, Stanton’s drive to make the film as epic as can be was and is ultimately its downfall, with a subpar male lead and plain-clothes narrative to boot. It’s not the worst thing to spend your time with, just don’t expect the world from it.

Rating: 4/10

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