John Carter (2012)

Don’t worry people, he’s not John Carter of Mars, he’s just regular old John Carter of Earth. Lame.

The film tells the story of warweary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars where he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the captivating Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). In a world on the brink of collapse, Carter rediscovers his humanity when he realizes that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

I have to admit that before I went to see this flick I was not that hyped up as much as others were. The trailers didn’t do much to excite me, I haven’t read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pieces of work, and this just looked like the sci-fi version of ‘Prince of Persia’. Thankfully though, my expectations were met with some high glee that I was not expecting at all.

Director Andrew Stanton does a great job with his first live-action feature because he not only keeps to what made this story so damn influential in the first place, but also makes it work for people who aren’t that familiar with either. The film was made for over 250 million dollars and I can tell that every single piece of that moolah went right to the production design because this flick made Mars look like a pretty cool place to be rather than just a desolate planet. There are these cool solar-sailing ships that are constantly moving in and out of this flick and look really neat, the creature designs look very realistic as if John Carter is actually talking to a bunch of these four-handed aliens, the costumes are a slight mixture of old Rome-looking fashion mixed with some ‘Star Wars’ looks and they look pretty cool as well, and just about every bit of special effects work and seem like Stanton really put his heart and soul into getting us into this world of Mars.

Stanton also does a very good job at keeping this film fun, entertaining, and just exactly what a sci-fi blockbuster should be, epic. In the past couple of years the bar for sci-fi blockbusters have been set pretty high but I think that this one could very easily sit right up there close to the top because it doesn’t try to do much that isn’t different from what we’ve seen before, but with what they do do, it’s a whole lot of fun. There’s constant guns shooting, swords clanging against one another, fist fights happening out of nowhere, aerial battles in those cool solar-sailing ships, a very extreme arena scene where John Carter takes on two huge gorillas, and just a whole bunch of other sci-fi goodness that will surely make anyone, especially sci-fi lovers, just feel a total energy burst in their system. Basically, it’s a film that has fun with everything it’s given with its huge plot and it also has a nice sense of humor to work around with too which is always a plus in any flick.

The problem that this flick hits is that on the story front, there seems to be a little too much going on here for people to grasp onto right away. As soon as John Carter lands right on Mars, we are stuck with the conflicts between the warring races, the new planet and it’s technology, the princess being married to someone she doesn’t want to be married to, the alien species, and the whole fact that John Carter is trying to find a way back home to Earth. It’s definitely a lot to take in right off the bat and even when we find out what the master plan behind all of this conflict is, we are kind of left with that feeling of “we don’t know what the hell he’s talking about”.

When it comes to holding a film on his own, Taylor Kitsch seems like he can do it, but for some odd reason, he’s just not all that special here as John Carter. I will give Kitsch the benefit of the doubt and say that there are some scenes where he displays some wit and charm and looks very fit and in-shape for the role of this ruthless warrior that the film soon makes him out to be, however, he came across as wooden sometimes. I don’t know if it was Kitsch’s fault or if it was just the writing’s problems, but there were times where he just seemed like he was reading his lines with the flattest delivery I have ever heard and I was wondering if he was supposed to do this to show that he’s confused about what’s going on, or if Kitsch is pretty lame as an actor. The guy is appearing in two more big flicks this year so I guess those ones will answer my question but he’s pretty empty here as John Carter and that’s one of my biggest gripes with this flick.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all pretty good too. Lynn Collins is very stunning but also pretty smart, hip, and sexy as Carter’s main love interest, Dejah Thoris, a new and cool princess that can actually stick up for herself rather than just standing there and let her boy do all of the ass-kicking; Mark Strong is good as Matai Shang, aka the evil angel that shows up and has complete control over anybody he wants to have it over; and Thomas Haden Church, Willem Dafoe, and Samantha Morton all do very good jobs as the CGI-covered Tharks and even though we can’t see their faces, we can still tell that they are putting every ounce of their skills into these performances, which also helps the great-looking animation of these characters too.

Consensus: John Carter has certain problems with its central performance from Kitsch and its over-abundance on plot, but what does work is the fact that Andrew Stanton has done nothing here but make a beautiful and stunning flick with a lot action, excitement, humor, and everything else that makes a sci-fi blockbuster work. I hope it gets all of its money back but that seems pretty far-fetched right now.



  1. I am thrilled to read a positive review of this. There’s been so much negativity that I kind of felt ashamed for wanting to see it so much. I’m a sucker for a sci-fi epic, even if it is a little shallow. I really don’t mind lowering my intellect for a couple hours of escapism. I mean, I’d probably rather watch Casablanca again, but every once in a while I want to see some 4 armed aliens on Mars.

    • Dusty, don’t feel ashamed. I think most of the negativity has been how Disney has handled the marketing. The review I did and others I have read have all been good. The Miami Herald gave it three stars, and they are usually very tough.

  2. Dan,

    Good review, and I’m glad you liked it.

    I thought Kitsch did a decent job. Given a chance I think he will grow into the role. But I think “John Carter” may go the way of “Flash Gordon”: a fun movie that never launched a franchise.

    You’re right about Stanton handling the plot heavy film well. There is a lot going on and a lot to follow, but it never seemed overwhelming and always was fun. Unlike the Star Ward Prequels–which I found myself comparing this film to–that got bogged down and took themselves to seriously.

  3. I think I’ve now read an even number of positive and negative reviews on John Carter. Interesting you should say there’s a lot going on in the film. It’s as if they were scared that if they didn’t cram the film with everything and a cherry on top, it’d leave people unsatisfied. I wish film makers would realise that sometimes simplifying the film down’s the best thing for it.

    Hoping to catch it one of these days – want to make my own mind up about it πŸ™‚

  4. Yup, hope this is able to make money too because I won’t mind this being a franchise (which it obviously is). One of the major flaws was having too much to establish in this first instalment, but with that out of the way, the sequels should be great!

  5. Hi Dan,

    I suppose because I have a tender spot in my heart for ERB, I found John Carter to be a great adaptation. It was definitely worth the wait and I’m looking forward to seeing Warrior of Mars.

    Great review, great site.

  6. ‘m glad to hear that you liked the flick Dan of Jarsoom as I did too, but I do disagree with you on one pretty important point. I for one didn’t find the film to be constantly exciting, in fact there was a major section in the middle that nearly messed up the total pacing of the movie thus far, it was just so much empty exposition and other banal conversations when we had already gathered all we needed to know and would ever get to know about this place and it’s people.

    Thankfully though your review had no such lag, nice one!

  7. I too liked it. A pleasant surprise. As fro Kitsch’s dry delivery maybe it was all that sand on the red planet that looked pretty Sahara like.

  8. Nice review! Although I do not agree haha but still great writing! Thanks for leaving a comment on our site! Please come back and visit often. Adding you to our blogroll πŸ™‚ – Novastreamovies

  9. Good review, Dan. I didn’t have the problems with it you did — or I just didn’t care about them as much πŸ˜€ — so I gave it a higher rating yet. But I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the film just seems to have fun with everything. There’s always a sense of wonder at what’s being shown, and that’s the way it should be.

  10. Great review! I think you’re pretty much spot on, though to be honest my friends and I didn’t really have any issues keeping everything straight, so I think that may be something that varies from person to person. I agree that Kitsch came off as a bit wooden at times. If there are sequels (hopefully) we’ll see if Kitsch can loosen up a bit and improve his delivery.

  11. Great review here, although I think we both disagree on our overall opinion of the film I still can see your point of view. For me I think Stanton is a great filmmaker but can’t get past the feeling that Disney wasn’t the right studio for a film like this.

  12. I thought it was a fun film to watch very passionate and enjoyable. Would like to see more of Edgar Rice Burroughs work on film.

  13. Very good and balanced review. I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Having also read the books I was pleased by the balance of keeping to the original story (written in the early 1900s) whilst bringing it into the future. I would recommend the film. It deserves to do well.

  14. An overabundance of plot should be a good thing! This could have easily been made as a simple hack and slash picture in an exotic local. Instead, the source material was taken seriously. I think we deserve movies with that much plot.

  15. I’ve never seen so many mixed reviews about a movie before, and so, I am intrigued by it, but I don’t know if will spend my money to see it in cinemas…maybe I’ll wait for the DVD! Great review, I haven’t been here in a while, I must change that!

  16. Good review! Though I found myself far more disappointed with the film. πŸ˜‰ I was disappointed by not only the badly altered story, but Kitsch’s lack of charisma and Stanton’s rather bland direction and muddled script. Great design work by the production design and effects teams though! They’re really the true stars of the film.

    Thanks for the comment on my review/blog!

  17. I actually thought this was pretty awful, lol. Interesting to see that you enjoyed it enough to give it an 8. I was incredibly bored after the first thirty minutes of the movie and I think the only reason why I didn’t get up and leave was because I needed something to pass the time while I was waiting for something.

  18. I didn’t like it (in fact I tore it apart over at Post Modern Pulps) but I will agree that there are some very impressive visuals. The production design, art design, costume design et al do a great job of setting the story in a very “alien” culture.

    Unfortunately, I feel this is a perfect example of why movies shouldn’t be made by a committee. You have to have faith in the original story when making an adaptation of a work this venerable, and they really didn’t. The Therns and their “plot” (that’s as far as I’ll go spoiler wise) was completely unnecessary. A Princess of Mars is about the love between John Carter and Dejah Thoris, and what the two of them would do to be together on a dying world filled with violence and treachery. Deviating from this formula (which they clearly do through the first half of the movie, and then lamely attempt to resolve in the last quarter of the film) is the biggest flaw in the film.

  19. Excellent review. I agree with you on a lot of these points, though they didn’t bother me much. (As you know, since I came here from your comment on my review. πŸ˜€ ) I took the flatness of Carter as a contrast to the liveliness of all the other characters around him, whether that’s something they did purposefully or not. Carter in the books (like Tarzan in the books by the same author) IS more than a pair of pectoral muscles, but you’re right–when you’re trying to cram so much story in, character moments fall by the wayside.

    I read the books and so was familiar with the set up. I was curious how someone who wasn’t already a fan would follow it, and you confirmed my fear that it would be a little much to take in. For me, it was absolutely worth the full movie price to see things I’d only imagined come to life on the big screen.

  20. Thanks for your review. I too, had a good time (see my blog for my review). I’m also not as much a naysayer about the money. It made $100 million in its first 3 days worldwide. While that’s not as much as some might have hoped, that’s still nothing to shake a stick at, and word of mouth seems to be pretty positive. We’ll see how well it does overall worldwide at the box office. I’m still cautiously optimistic about seeing sequels, which would be great because I loved the books.

  21. Good review. I thought Kitsch was a bit flat too, but wasn’t sure if it was him or if they were going for John Carter being numb after events on Earth and in shock on Mars. He came alive during the fights which was a nice touch if they were intending to portray a deeper edge to him being a scarred veteran. That’s probably just me reading into things and being generous.

  22. The John Carter on film is a little too “every man” whereas the John Carter in the novel is bigger than life. Maybe that’s what Kitsch was going for, but I think he should’ve stuck to the original feel of the character.

    A well-balanced review!

  23. As it is, it’s a decent movie. The Therns didn’t originally show up until “Gods of Mars”. The atmosphere factory is left out and Zodanga being a mobile, despoiling city is apparently lifted from “Strength of Stones” by Greg Bear. (A very good book, BTW, which means it’d be royally screwed up if made into a movie.)

    Helium (I’d hoped they pronounce it hΔ•-LEE-um so it’d sound more Barsoomian) and Zodanga aren’t just cities, they are city states, two among several on Barsoom. Big difference between a city and a city state. Ancient Rome or London VS their current status as capital cities of nations. City state borders tend to be much less defined, smaller and more fought over than borders of nations.

    Altering the very central plot point of Mars being a dying planet because it is old, and the habitability being supported by the atmosphere factory, powered by ninth ray energy – to an environmentalist screed is the one unforgivable thing the scriptwriters did.

    At least John can marry Dejah without violating custom since it was a Thern that killed Sab Than.

    “You have sealed his death warrant, my princess–Sab Than dies.”

    “Nor that either,” she hastened to explain. “I may not wed the man who
    slays my husband, even in self-defense. It is custom. We are ruled by
    custom upon Barsoom. It is useless, my friend. You must bear the
    sorrow with me. That at least we may share in common. That, and the
    memory of the brief days among the Tharks. You must go now, nor ever
    see me again. Good-bye, my chieftain that was.”

  24. I have to say I totally disagree with you about this being a plot heavy film. The plot was so simple it really couldn’t be simplified any more. And Taylor Kitsch is what made the film work. All the CGI and awesome production design in the world can’t make for a compelling story. The point was Carter was war weary. He just got back from a war he didn’t give a crap about to find the people he loved murdered in the most heinous of ways all due to the fact he wasn’t there to protect them. He didn’t find much worth fighting for anymore and especially not petty stuff like…I don’t want to marry this guy. Once he realized that the Therns were going to not only finish stripping Mars but then come to earth and strip his home world he knew this was a reason to fight. When in defense of your home is the best time to fight. By fighting for Mars he realized he wanted to stay there as he felt it was his new home.

    I appreciate that you liked the movie and gave what is for all intents and purposes a positive review. I do disagree that it hasn’t gotten negative reviews…I’ve read quite a few of them. I think when a studio like Disney makes good decisions (like the director and sticking with the source material) movie goers should reward said studio by seeing the movie. If this doesn’t make enough money then next time they’ll build the movie from a particular battle scene they want instead of making it character driven.

    @Gregg Eshelman – Thanks for the background on the original story! There is so much that the director inferred through visuals and I appreciate the things he took out to suit what contemporaries believe a blockbuster should be.


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