John Carter of Mars
Dune, Star Wars and Avatar. All of these, and more, have come before John Carter, but each also owe their very existence to John Carter.
The original serialized novel series ‘John Carter of Mars’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs, has spawned copious copycats and influenced multiple space operas, but until now has been conspicuous in his absence from the silver screen. While there are now generations that are avid followers of otherworld wars, weird alien species, and one man rising up against an evil galactic empire, familiarity breeds contempt, and John Carter faces a monumental challenge in reasserting his place among such a distinguished pantheon.
John Carter needs to find a distinctive voice, but unfortunately what comes out is rather garbled mess of a film, which sadly feels derivative rather than iconic. It’s a been-there, done-that, got-the-action-figure retread of man finding his place in a whole new world, coming to accept his destiny, battling an evil galactic empire, winning the princess, and trying not to get eaten by giant alien creatures with pointy teeth.
While graphically it is a success, with the other-wordly beasties being effectively realised – a particular highlight being a super-speed space dog/toad sidekick (yep) – the pacing is far too languid. A promisingly grand opening battle sequence soon gives way to much confusing jargon spouting, aimless meanderings around an admittedly well-realised Martian planet, and melodramatic philosophising which, rather than providing gravitas, invokes much unintentional giggling. All of which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the plot had any kind of discernible coherence. Bad guys are only distinguishable from good guys by their fashion sense, there is never any real sense of peril, and any humour from opening scenes is lost in the po-faced intensity and seriousness of the latter half.
Taylor Kitsch and all involved do their best to respect the source material, but in attempts at faithfulness they lose the vital sense of adventure, instead getting lost in a heady swarm of Therns, Tharks and Lotharians, battling for control of Helium, Zodanga or Barsoom – probably.
Words by Ali Bianchi. Catch Ali and Adam's regular Film Clash podcast here.