Yesterday afternoon I went to see John Carter. I'm a sucker for big sci-fi epics, and was quite curious as to what this film was about, exactly, because I thought Disney did such a crap job marketing it. Seriously, the studio trailers told you nothing of substance which is a real shame because not only was the movie pretty good, but apparently this property is arguably the grandfather of modern science fiction (the Edgar Rice Burroughs series of Mars novels first appeared in 1912) -- and I can't be the only massive Star Wars fan that had never heard of this, right? The shoddy marketing campaign for this film -- inexplicably refusing to capitalize on the story's place in the canon of classic science fiction -- makes absolutely no sense. And I have to think that is where a large portion, if not most, of the blame lies for the movie's poor performance at the box office. Because John Carter was a pretty entertaining flick, which surprised me after the ho-hum promotional push.
All of that said, I'm not going to be able to resist making this review a little tongue-in-cheek, as I found some of the spectacle rather humorous. But I don't view that as a detraction -- it reinforced by overal favorable impression of the film as being fun...because after all I don't watch as many films as I do to think (all of the time, anyways, ha!).
As the movie opens it introduces us to a Mars that is apparently a wasteland, with only two proper cities on the entire planet. The first is led by some guy named Sab Than who looks remarkably like Dominic West (ha!), which led to my first "what the heck is
So there you have the Mars (I just can't call Mars "Barsoom," sorry Burroughs) set-up, now cut to America where we meet John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is being followed by vacant-eyed men in suits and then ends up DEAD (or DOES HE??) after summoning his favorite nephew, Edgar Burroughs (Daryl Sabara, Spy Kids!), who turns out to be his heir. Edgar or Ned, as his uncle likes to call him, is given John's SUPER SECRET DIARY and this is where things start to get interesting. Carter was a Civil War veteran, very much a man without a country or cause because DANG IT, he's been burned by the world and his wife & kid are dead and WHY SHOULD HE CARE ABOUT PEOPLE ANYMORE?! (Side note: the Ned scenes in New York have something of a steam punk vibe to them after seeing the Martian technology...nice contrast.) Anyways, to make a long story short, John ends up in a cave full of gold which turns out to be some sort of alien way-station, because he kills one of those Thern peeps and then accidentally uses the pretty medallion the bald guy was carrying to transport himself to Mars.
Now I'm going to cut John a little bit of slack here, because when he is transported to Mars (only it takes him quite a while to realize he's on another friggin' PLANET...the four-armed green people weren't a big enough clue), he acquires the awesome super power of being able to LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND. Wait...there are only two cities...scratch the tall buildings part. *wink* (In 1912 fantastic leaping may have been cutting edge, who am I to judge?) So he hooks up with Tharks (the aforementioned four-armed green aliens), whose king Tars Tarkas (voiced by Willem Defoe) takes a liking to him, sort of as in the vein of a royal pet (that doesn't go over well). Now there is all sorts of clan in-fighting as Tars is faced with insurrection, and that's on top of family issues as his unacknowledged daughter Sola (voiced by Samantha Morton) is a clan outcast for holding radical views like NICENESS.
|Look! It's a Purefoy!
Dejah is of course the impetus for Carter to START CARING ABOUT PEOPLE AGAIN...I mean MARTIANS...and DO something with his life, all in the best heroic journey/science fiction/adventure story tradition. I really liked the world-building here -- Mars is appropriately bleak and desolate, with pops of color in its cities and the inhabitants' clothing. I even rather liked the green Thark aliens. :) The costumes were this interesting hybrid of minimalist futuristic and ancient Roman soldier garb, which was rather interesting because because it was unexpected (Purefoy as an alien/Roman soldier? Yes, I'll take it.). Two of the three writers have Pixar work in their history, which perhaps explains the well-paced action and the overall feeling of energy that pervades the film. Yes, it has its cheesy moments, but at least it has fun with them. :) And I loved Michael Giacchino's score -- big, sweeping, at times romantic -- it was grand.
John Carter clocks in at a little over two hours, but director Andrew Stanton keeps the action moving at a brisk pace so there were no apparent lags in the forward momentum, for me at any rate. Knowing next to nothing about the specifics of the storyline, I was pleasantly surprised and entertained. It is unfortunate that those with no knowledge of the film's antecedents are probably going to feel like it is derivative (no thanks to the WORTHLESS MARKETING), but just knowing that this series of stories inspired countless writers and films made me appreciate Burroughs's influence in a way I'd never bothered to think of before. And the end of the film was absolute PERFECTION for a romantic sap like me. :) SPOILERS: Knowing that Carter spent over ten years desperately search for a way to return to Mars and his ONE TRUE LOVE just killed me. Kitsch sold me on Carter's single-minded quest. Gotta love a man who doesn't let a little thing like love separated by time and space hold him bac. *wink* All told, a lot more fun than I ever expected. :)