Now Playing: Disney’s Mixed Bag of Interplanetary Goodies

It’s difficult to explain how awesome ‘John Carter’ is, but it’s even harder to get others amped up to see the movie. I blame the marketing. No trailer or television spot does anything positive for the film. There’s nothing enticing in the advertising campaign, which makes the movie look like a CG-laden cook cutter space Western, or worse, a remake of ‘Attack of the Clones’. But I promise that if you make the leap of faith and give the movie a shot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Let me put it out there right now that while I encourage you to see ‘John Carter’, it is not perfect. In fact, it’s pretty flawed – the largest problem being tonal issues. The film kicks off with a much-too-serious tone. The expository voiced-over montage intro (which feels like it was compiled and added just to shave ten minutes off the runtime) doesn’t help. Also problematic is the fact that the title character isn’t even introduced in the first 15 minutes of the movie. Around the 20-minute mark, the fun finally starts to kick in. I wish I could say that, while the ride starts off a little slow and bumpy, it’s smooth sailing once it finds its feet – but I can’t. The bi-polar vibe of ‘John Carter’ is constant. The good thing is that the fun parts are really fun, and almost entirely erase the negative aspects. And the unpredictable ending more than makes up for its faults.

I suspect that Disney has kept the story and set-up of ‘John Carter’ quiet in the ad campaign out of fear that the film will be compared to last summer’s lackluster ‘Cowboys & Aliens‘. I was oblivious to the fact that John Carter is a former Civil War soldier who moved out to the West. After the intro, a good chunk of the story is set in the Wild West, where John Carter is a gold miner. Only after he stumbles into a cave and triggers an alien teleportation device is he ripped through space and taken to Mars. Mind you, he doesn’t begin his Mars expedition until 20-something minutes into the movie.

The story of ‘John Carter’ doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I swear that’s it’s actually solid. Two warring tribes of humans on Mars have been fighting over power for ages. One tribe, the more evil of the two, has been aided by some sort of godly alien beings with superpowers. The advantage is on their side as they begin to cleanse the red planet of their enemies’ existence. When John Carter arrives, he saves the life of an innocent princess about to be slain and starts aiding the powerless victims in their rebellion. Even if this doesn’t sound like something that will tickle your fancy, the ending surely will. No matter what you think of the rest of the movie, the ending is sure to earn your approval and recommendation. It’s so intelligent and fun that you’ll walk away with a big grin on your face.

Having said all this, I expect that ‘John Carter’ will probably fail to find a mass audience. It’s hard to get excited for the film based on the trailers. I predict that ‘John Carter’ will become a ‘Tron‘-like cult film for the newer generation.

Rating: ★★★½☆


  1. You know, I had no intrest at all in this movie, but the reviews have been really good, from both friends and critics. I am looking for something to do this weekend with my friend. I may just have to check this movie out

  2. Barsoom Bob

    I have had a life long rooting interest in seeing these stories on the big screen and your assesment is fairly accurate.

    Saw it last night and it was fun. Way more fun than all the haters and hip critics are making it out to be.

    Before I list the two negatives, props must be given to Lynn Collins, she terrific and gives this movie it proudly beating heart.

    The two things that stop it from being an out of the park home run :

    The lead actor, not quite right for the part. He looks good and can swing a mean sword but he has the charisma of a log.

    The took a major character and plot point out of the second book and shoe horned it into this movie making it a little overly complicated.

      • Barroom Bob

        Mark Strong’s character and the Therns. They are from the second and third books the Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars.

        First book, out of one civil war into another and culminates with a really inter-racial marriage.

        Second book kind of tears organized religion a new one with the manipulative Therns basically hood winking all the populations of Mars until they mess with Dejah and JC goes on a rampage to get her back.

  3. JM

    ‘John Carter’ needs to gross $700M to break even, so maybe it’s helpful that it looks like it was written and directed by George Lucas.

    A PG-13 trip to Mars doesn’t interest me, and all three of my kids are meh.

    They say the 3D on this is particularly awful.

    But I hope this does well enough to greenlight five sequels. Let Andrew Stanton complete his trilogy, then bring in a new director for the next trilogy. Maybe one of the six will be a timeless masterpiece.

  4. I’m tired of space-age stories where somehow the people “riding on light” in sweet, out-of-this-world spaceships are somehow still fighting with swords.

    I felt bored most of the time in this movie. Sitting there waiting for something to happen that made me care about anything that had happened, and it never did.

    Taylor Kitsch needs to never act again.

    • Barsoom Bob

      Amen, to that Taylor Kitsch comment. He actually harms the film by not bringing something to the film for the audience to be able to relate to the hero.

      One of young George Lucas’ genius strokes was taking the swordfighting genre and making it palatable to modern audiences by making the swords glow.

      As for “nothing interesting going on” I do have to disagree. The story and film were solid and have heart, it’s basic thru line is a romance, the spectacle and action is up there on the screen also.

      I offer up the wife litmus test. My wife was kind enough to come with me last night to the midnight Imax show and if something doesn’t engage her on a human level, she will fall asleep while I watch on, doesn’t matter what time of day or night. She stayed awake until 2:25am when the movie was over and said it was very fun.

    • Evan Withrow

      I haven’t seen this movie yet, and Taylor Kitsch may not be great in this movie. But PLEASE go watch the Friday Night Lights TV series before you throw him under the bus. Or the Bang Bang Club (movie isn’t great, but Kitsch is more than solid). He has some quality acting skills.

  5. EM

    I’d been looking forward to this movie for years but changed my mind when I first saw trailers. They revealed two major problems:

    (1) Taylor Kitsch, despite the appropriate last name for this sort of movie, does not look like the John Carter type.

    (2) Barsoom does not look like Barsoom. For example, look at the photo used for this blog entry’s banner. Does the background look red to you?

    • Barsoom Bob

      Go see the movie. If you are familiar with the stories you will enjoy it, despite it’s occasional flaw. It captures the essence of what made these great adventures.

      Point 1, have to agree, character should have personality, and he was little more straight forward valiant in the books, not a reluctant anti hero.

      Point 2 you are wrong on. They come across as separate and distinct landscapes, good old technicolor Earth and the ochre / red shaded sand of the book’s Mars. It actually is kind of brilliant to make them similar yet fantastically different.

  6. lordbowler

    Just saw John Carter and It exceeded my low expectations. I kept my expectations low because of all of the bad buzz surrounding the movie.

    But, this was a great fun movie. Well acted, Excellent Effects, Romance, Action, Comedy, Adventure and a story that was multi-layered.

    I know the story a little, but not that well. I’ve never read the books, but wanted to see this story done well and I was not disappointed.

    My niece and nephew also thoroughly enjoyed the movie, the niece for the Princess and the nephew for the action/adventure aspect. This movie had something for the girls and the boys.

    I’d give this an 8/10. I noticed that the Walt Disney Logo at the opening was Red instead of Blue, which was a nice touch.

  7. I love the books, but this had virtually no similarity beyond names of characters and the ‘physical’ things (creatures/places/vehicles). I think that’s all Stanton loved, since he changed the characters and story completely. He obviously thought he knew better than an author who’s been popular for a hundred years and influenced many of the greatest science fiction authors and film-makers of the last hundred years… But, you know, he is from PIXAR, and he did make WALL-E to hammer home eco messages to kiddies, so he MUST know better than the author… 😉

    I thought taken as a film on its own, separate from the far superior source material… It still fell flat. With the exception of the utterly bland and uncharismatic lead, the acting varied between good (Dafoe, and the other side-cast) and merely functional (Collins). The plot was dire and the pacing was up the spout. Stanton clearly should stick to animation because he doesn’t know what he’s doing with live-action.

    This should and could have been a wonderful film. Instead it was shockingly mediocre.