Taylor Kitsch, Samantha Morton, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Daryl Sabara, Bryan Cranston, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, Mark Strong and Thomas Haden Church
Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912 STORY)
Walt Disney Co.
Commentary with Director Andrew Stanton, Producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins; Disney Second Screen Interactive Experience; Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary; 100 Years in the Making; 360 Degrees of John Carter; Barsoom Bloopers
Directed by frequent Pixar collaborator Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life, Wall-E, Finding Nemo), John Carter is a lesser Stanton film than even that of A Bug's Life, arguably the filmmaker's least known and least successful film. Based upon a 1912 story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known for his Tarzan, John Carter is no doubt intended as a Disney franchise film and will likely please its target audience enough to become one.
John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War veteran prospecting for gold in the Arizona territory in 1868 who finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet of Barsroom, aka Mars, and smack dab into the middle of a Martian civil war involving the Heliumites, Zodangans and a native people known as the Tharks. Carter quickly aligns himself with the Heliumites, perhaps because of the beauty Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins). He also gains a quick sympathy for the unique Tharks, six-limbed beings with tusks.
Why the tusks, anyway?
Carter also finds himself rather quickly at odds with a baddie named Matai Shang (Mark Strong, because every bad guy must be played by Mark Strong).
If one were to assess John Carter only on the basis of its technical achievements, it would no doubt be rated much higher than its C+ grade. The film is a technical marvel, and the motion-captured aliens are a marvel. I'd dare say that the people who fall in love with this film, and there will be many, will be those for whom the technical accomplishments are such a crowning achievement that story concerns, character concerns and, well, kitschy actor concerns are largely irrelevant.
The film's best performance belongs to Lynn Collins, who also possesses the film's best developed character as Princess Dejah. On a certain level, Princess Dejah is the ultimate woman - brainy, beautiful and buff. Collins seems ultimately at home in each of these roles and also has no problem swooning for the nipply and ripply Taylor Kitsch, whose shirtless scenes would be far more comical if not for Stanton's ability to pass them off as semi-poetic.
Kitsch isn't really bad in the film. He's certainly passable as an action star and carries a strong screen presence that entertains even if it does feel more like an appetizer than a main course. While the film isn't all live-action, this is Stanton's first journey into the land of live-action cinema and he goes there with hit-and-miss results. Carter's Pixar roots are obvious as he tries, at least partly in vain, to craft a film with both brains and brawn and ends up muting both. The film's serious storyline is significantly hindered by occasionally laughably campy dialogue that would likely feel intentional if it didn't come in the midst of such an elaborately and beautifully constructed film. It's hard not to feel like John Carter's retro vibe is incredibly intentional and would have been much more successful had Stanton and Disney just fully committed to the campier, classic sci-fi western vibe. Instead, there are times when the film's technical prowess works against it.
A storyline involving Edgar Rice Burroughs feels excessive and unneeded, especially given the film's too long running time of 133 minutes. The action sequences, in particular, are poorly constructed and paced with Stanton seeming to have trouble deciding if this is going to be a cartoonish action film or a meaningful one. The battles mostly fail to satisfy, and the film's opening scene is either a misguided mess or simply unnecessary.
However, many of you are going to love John Carter simply because of the sheer awesomeness of the film and technical achievements that rival that of Avatar. While the story is even less satisfying than that of Avatar, John Carter seems a little more in touch with its campy roots and, at times, has quite a bit of fun with its camp side.
John Carter should have a good shot of winning its opening weekend and, most likely, winning enough box-office to ensure the likelihood that the series by Burroughs will continue to be brought to life on the big screen.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic