"Did I not tell you he could jump!"
We've seen millions of films set in outer-space, and many of them have become classics over the years. John Carter is based off the 1917 novel, A Princess of Mars, and is considered by many fans to have been the inspiration for sci-fi epics including Star Wars and Star Trek. While this is probably true, the film adaptation has been made years after the genre has been used so many times, John Carter in the end just feels dull and cliché. Directed by Andrew Stanton, who is making his first live-action film after many years of working with Pixar, this is just a mildly enjoyable film. With Disney trying so desperately to launch a franchise since Pirates of the Caribbean is doing so well in terms of the box-office, John Carter (which is apparently the biggest box-office flop of all time) will entertain the most undemanding of movie-goers.
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) learns that his Uncle, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), has died. Reading his diary, Edgar discovers that Carter had fought with the South in the Civil War and later, while fleeing from Apaches, had stumbled across gold in a cave and, via a magical medallion, had been transported to Mars, called Barsoom by the people who live there. These people are the tall, green, thin Tharks and the human-like, tattoed, Zodangans, who are in conflict with one another. Carter is attracted to Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a red Martian Princess.
John Carter was written by Stanton and co-writers Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, and it's derivative of every sci-fi epic you can think of. Aircraft battles, rival species - George Lucas had done this a long time ago. Yes, there are films that can get away with having a certain genre like this, but the issue is with the screenplay. There's nothing special about it. To be honest, I found so much of this film confusing, particularly with the rival aliens, and the god-like villains known as the Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Surprisingly, considering how cliché this whole film is, the plot is extremely convoluted. There are too many unnecessary sub-plots, and it's hard remembering certain characters (the names all sounded the same...). The hero is likeable enough, and fortunately Dejar is not a total stereotypical princess - she's a scientist and warrior, which at least gives the movie an interesting character.
The first act of John Carter definitely has severe issues. First off, there are just so many plot-holes, and it's really the case of lazy writing. For example, when John Carter arrives on Mars, he can't walk properly due to the gravity change, and thus he must jump to be able to move in distances. Shortly after he realises this, he suddenly starts walking normally as if the gravity was suddenly changed to the way it is on Earth. How the hell did this happen? The writers should've at least took some time to develop this ability to walk properly as if he was on Earth. Also, the pacing is dangerously slow in the first half, mainly due to just uninteresting content. When the film tries to set up a romantic relationship between John Carter and Dejar, it's not convincing, and although his past is harrowing, I couldn't care less about Carter - he just felt derivative and uninteresting.
In terms of acting, John Carter doesn't feature any performances that really stand out. Taylor Kitsch is wooden and looks bored as the title character. He just spends most of the film talking in the same tone of voice, and although he maybe trying to appear like a badass, his performance is nothing great. Lynn Collins definitely added some enjoyment to the film (she's remarkably hot), but her acting itself, like Kitsch, is nothing special, although her character is a lot more interesting than John Carter. Thus, she has slightly more to do. Mark Strong and Ciáran Hinds look embarrassed to be in this and spend most of the film trying to keep a straight face. Willem Dafoe adds some good value to mix voicing the leader of the Tharks, and Samantha Morton is also commendable as his daughter.
While the first half is sluggish, the second act of the film definitely picks up the pace with a lot more spectacle. The action sequences are mediocre at best, and I gotta say, I think 3D ruined them for me. This is, by far, one of the worst 3D conversions I've ever seen (I never saw Clash of the Titans, so I can't compare this to the latter). It's not well used, and it added nothing to visuals - it just made everything darker. Thus, the action set-pieces never really grabbed me, and 3D was never even implemented well with them. With all these negatives, the film still has positive aspects. The design is amazing. The sets look beautiful, and the costumes, particular Lynn Collins', were great to look at. The ships look spectacular, although the visual effects used to create them are standard for this kind of thing. The score's not particularly memorable, but editor Eric Zumbrunnen did manage to capture a nice adventurous style to film, with long dissolves and well cut action.
I find John Carter extremely hard to recommend. There is some fun to be had with it during it's second half, but oh god, the other half... it's just boring to sit through. With the 3D just ruining so much for me, I'd say it's a decent rental, but don't expect anything spectacular. It's shocks me that the film had such an enormous budget ($250 Million), yet everything looks so unconvincing. Even Mars itself wasn't convincing (it just looked like a desert somewhere on our planet). Like I said, if you're undemanding with your sci-fi, then you probably could ignore the endless amount of flaws in John Carter. Otherwise, it's a film I wouldn't waste my time with.