Gambit and Kayla Silverfox from X-Men: Wolverine together again in a film about a dude from the 19th century who ends up in Mars? Sign me up!
To be honest, I had no idea what the heck John Carter was about when I went to watch it at the cinema other than that it was from Disney. I didn’t know it was based on the hugely popular Barsoom series by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. I didn’t know it was directed by Andrew Stanton, the guy behind WALL-E and Finding Nemo, and I didn’t know that it starred Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins (the pair from Wolverine), as well as great actors like Dominic West, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Mark Strong (some of them will be unrecognisable though).
Well, John Carter was better than expected. Not awesome, but better than expected. The film begins on Mars, a planet with breathable air and (some) water, completely unlike the one we know. It is also inhabited by warring tribes of people that look a lot like humans, and one of them (Dominic West) is given a super weapon by a bunch of bald weirdos. Unfortunately, he’s not a good guy, and he has his eyes set on the princess (Collins).
Meanwhile on planet Earth, John Carter (Kitsch), a Confederate Army cavalry officer looking for gold, is pursued by Colonel Powell (played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston — woo hoo!). From there, he somehow ends up on Mars, and is captured by a species of green aliens called Tharks. Now if all that sounds kind of confusing, don’t worry. The plot is not particularly important to enjoying the film (though it helps to have a general grasp of what’s going on). I will say that the transition from Earth to Mars is done very well, and doesn’t feel at all jarring or awkward.
The greatest strength of John Carter is its action sequences, and there are quite a few of them. The special effects are amazing (not sure how they turned out in 3D, but in 2D they were just fine) and the fight scenes, some of which are on a humongous scale, are sensational. Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat, gun fights, sword fights, airship battles or gladiator arena duels, John Carter has them all, and Stanton does a solid job of keeping them entertaining.
Unfortunately, the film is also unnecessarily long at 132 minutes, and all the non-action bits felt very slow and rather boring to me. A large part of the problem is the human characters on Mars (other than Carter himself) — they just didn’t feel genuine and the dialogue was appalling, occasionally even laughable. In fact, the Martians provided much more compelling stories and subplots than the humans. Nothing against Collins either, but I didn’t get the chemistry between her and Kitsch, which made the inevitable romance that much harder to swallow. To be honest, it would have been better had Carter been the only human in the whole thing.
On the bright side, John Carter does feature quite a bit of that classic Disney comedy (the alien dog is hilarious), and to Stanton’s credit the film doesn’t take itself very seriously. As a result, the film’s weaknesses are not as glaring and audiences can just enjoy the film for what it is — a popcorn movie that offers a bit of escapist fun for a couple of hours.
3.25 stars out of 5!