A former civil war soldier is transported to Mars where he finds himself embroiled in a fight for the planet’s future.
The stories that John Carter is based on are 100 years old this year, but this is the first time that they have made it to the big screen. The movie follows the story of a soldier who has lost everything. Carter is approached to help broker peace between the Native Americans and the settlers, but is not interested. Once he reaches Mars, however, and encounters the various different races living there, he is pulled into the battle for the future of the world.
Taylor Kitsch is best known for his role as Remy LeBeau in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and for his recurring role in Friday Night Lights. He looks the part for John Carter – buff! – and his physique matches the skills that he develops in the low gravity world of Mars. Kitsch is not the world’s strongest actor, but he is not dreadful either, and he manages to strike the right balance as Carter. Mark Strong plays the villain of the movie – naturally – and his shape shifting Matai Shang is menacing, if slightly confusing.
Lynn Collins (another Wolverine alumni) plays the love interest Deja, and once the audience gets past her incredibly strange tan – in the original stories the character had red skin – she is pretty and tough. The character is the typical ‘strong woman’ role, but it is obvious that Collins had fun playing the warrior princess. The voice work in the film is great; Willem Dafoe has such a distinctive voice that it is surprising he hasn’t done this kind of work before.
John Carter certainly looks good, but where the movie falls down is the incredibly strange and confusing story. There are three factions of native Martians and none of them seem to like each other very much. Add to this, another race whose modus operandi is to strip a planet of its resources and move on, and you have a recipe for disaster. The problem is that it is hard to keep track of who is who, who is mad at who and why, and then there is the issue of the Ninth Ray and the issue of religion on the planet. There is far too much going on, even for the film’s two hour running time. There is alos the issue of John’s complete change of heart; back on Earth he had no interest in civil war, but as soon as a pretty girl is involved, he hurtles headlong in to battle. Yes, the character has to change and grow through the movie, but John’s motivations are so unclear – other than the pretty girl that is – that it is hard to accept that this is a course the character would follow. As for the decision to make Carter’s nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (the writer of the original stories)… Why? Even if this was in the original books, it feels like a schlocky and self conscious move in the film.
John Carter could easily have been turned into a fun sci-fi romp along the lines of Flash Gordon, but the script tried to keep the film grounded in some sort of ‘realism’ and it came off as muddled and bland. The acting is fine, but nothing special and the film looks good, but this is not enough to save it.
John Carter is expected to lose $200 million in the current quarter, and it is easy to see why. This could have been the film to make up for the mess that was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but with the jumbled story, and without the charm of Jake Gyllenhaal, John Carter turns out to be bland and forgettable. Oh and Ciaran Hinds is woefully underused.