Film Review – John Carter

Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.

John Carter

Given the ridiculous number of Tarzan adaptations to grace the big screen over the last century, it’s amazing that there hasn’t been a big screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other epic series until now (apparently there was a direct to DVD movie in 2009). There have been many attempts over the years to bring this project to life by various studios, but the story always remained the same: ‘the technology isn’t advanced enough to do it justice.’ It’s curious that an animated version never made it off the ground, but now we have the next best thing, a CGI filled blockbuster directed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton.

John Carter hearkens back to a time when Mars was a complete mystery; free to be populated with whatever a writers imagination could come up with. The movie does a great job of tapping into the sense of adventure present in the original stories; despite its many problems, this is a fun film from start to finish and isn’t ashamed to admit that it’s nothing more than a flight of fancy. This is a nice break from the continual flow of mediocre action/adventure films that take themselves far too seriously. While the story takes place on Mars, this is clearly a fantasy movie, not sci-fi – and the film embraces the genre wholeheartedly.

Lynn Collins

Feisty Princess? Check.

John Carter is so full of exciting battles, troubled kings, damsels in distress and noble acts that it is easy to miss the fact that there isn’t really much of a coherent plot tying the whole thing together. After a brief introduction on Earth (that does a nice job of incorporating Edgar Rice Burroughs in a similar fashion to the books) the audience is dumped on Mars with the titular character as he bounces from one crazy civilisation to the next, never really stopping to ask the many questions that would surely be running through the head of anyone in his situation.

In true pulp fashion, the audience is just expected to go with it, asking questions would waste too much time. For the most part, it is easy to just ignore the various gaps and go with the story; but there are a number of moments that make you sit up and ask: ‘Wait, does any of this actually make sense?‘ While the plot does start to look very haphazard when submitted to any scrutiny, the film does exactly what it sets out to do; create a fun, engaging adventure story.

A large part of this is down to the great performances from most of the cast. Mark Strong is suitably menacing as the villain he seems destined to always play, Ciarán Hinds and James Purefoy do a nice transition of their parts from Rome into an alien setting, and Dominic West has a great time chewing the scenery as the ambitious Sab Than; but the real prize here goes to Lynn Collins as Princess Dejah Thoris.

While they were usually abducted as part of the plot, Burroughs was known for filling his John Carter books with strong, independent female characters and the film has managed to continue that tradition. Collins does a great job of capturing both the vulnerability and boldness of the Princess, easily being one of the most interesting characters in the film. I’d have to nominate my favourite character as the adorable CGI Mars-dog Woola, but the Princess is a close second.


Who couldn’t love that face?

Unfortunately, one of the least interesting characters in the film is John Carter himself. Despite a great introduction that shows how much the character hates being tied down, he never really becomes much more than a stock standard hero archetype. There are some attempts to give him a tragic back story, but they come off as clumsy and unnecessary. You know that there’s a problem when your main character is outshone by the CGI supporting cast (even if it does include Willem Dafoe).

Overall, John Carter is a fun action romp that has its share of problems, but is still definitely worth watching. It’s refreshing to see such a light-hearted adventure for a change, and despite having a thin story and more CGI than you could poke a stick at, it was an entertaining film – and that’s what your after when you go to the movies isn’t it?

What I Liked – Captured the sense of adventure. Great visuals. Lynn Collins’ performance. Woola.

What I Didn’t Like – Plot felt rushed and unfocused. John Carter wasn’t very interesting.

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 (Enjoyable)

8 thoughts on “Film Review – John Carter

  1. I appreciate the review. I’ve banned myself from John Carter. First of all. I’m outraged that the “From Mars” part was dropped. Guess why? Because Mars Need Moms flopped!
    I am not joking.

    This movie – from the previews. Reeks of a CGI huge empty blockbuster. The lead looks like a Calvin Klein model.
    All they had to do was look at the inspiring Frank Frazetta style artwork to see how a John Carter from Mars should really look.
    At time of writing the film looks to be a huge financial flop and to be frank it deserves it.
    While officially not a PIXAR film. Their talent has been all over this. I don’t know how they could get this so wrong?
    This movie should of been an $80 million dollar budget and written by Oliver Stone.
    Disney have blown this.

    • I don’t want to hammer you hard, buddy, but you can’t declare that you have banned yourself from seeing a film, and then proceed to review it negatively. I definitely appreciate where you’re coming from, and from the persepective of the action-adeventure blockbuster, John Carter does look like the same old thing we’ve all seen many times before, and have often been dissapointed with. But the money grossed by a film, the marketing of a film, and even the people involved in the film are not the elements that make a film good, bad or indifferent. You must see the flim to review it, for good or ill.

    • I don’t think dropping the ‘of Mars’ part of the title was really that big of a deal, especially as the film presented the story as John’s transition from John Carter of Earth to John Carter of Mars (the latter shows up as a title card at the beginning of the end credits).

      Also, while it had a lackluster performance in the US, the movie has been quite successful in the International market, but as Zee mentioned, that isn’t really a good indicator of quality. I’m sure the Twilight movies have all made a fortune.

      While I agree that it would have been interesting to see a more adult take on the property given the original material’s saucy nature, that would have severely limited the market for the film. I don’t think that having the characters actually wearing clothes is all that big of a sacrifice in the end. It’s a fun adventure movie that the family can enjoy.

  2. Hi Guys, great counter argument. Please don’t think i’m putting across the angle that box office equals quality. Michael Bay’s Transformers anyone? It’s just that i’ve been unhappy with every single decision i’ve heard about this film, from casting to marketing to the trailer. I’ve banned myself previously from movies like Wolverine and Batman & Robin just because i know i will get too frustrated at what their vision was.

    I know if i see John Carter i will be thinking, this is not the way they should of or could have gone. I have met people who have waited their whole adult lives for a good to reasonable John Carter from Mars movie.

    What is wrong with having a more adult slant on it? Think of all the versions of Tarzan out there and my favourite version was Greystoke with C.Lambert and for the record that flopped as well.

    And now we get the talk from the directors, writers etc about sequels.
    There will be no sequel to this!
    After seeing the great documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty about Disney in the 1980’s it’s a shame to see nothing has really changed.

    • It’s good to know your tastes, and to know how you will personally respond to different movies. Particularly given todays cinema prices you can’t afford to spend money on something you know you’re going to take issue with. So it’s a good bet on your part.
      The issue is, though, that when you refuse to see a movie, and then publicly comment on the quality of that movie, you are essentially writing a review, and exercising a measure of influence over people who hear or read your words. When you refuse to see a movie, you obviously can’t comment on the movie: what you are essentially saying, then, is that you are satisfied that the work that has gone into this film over the course of it’s production by the many people involved is worthless; These people are guaranteed to give you a crap product, so don’t bother checking their work out.
      It’s good to warn people off bad quality, when you can substantiate that poor quality through your own experience. But when people critique the idea behind a film and influence others from that perspective it will lead to people generally deciding not to see movies because they are “sci-fi”, or because they are Australian, or because they don’t recognise the actors etc. How many little gems of movies have fallen through the cracks because people weren’t willing to give them a shot based on information that had nothing to do with the actualy movie?

  3. The problem with a more adult slant on the film is that you hike up the rating, cutting your audience significantly. While I would have been interested to see something more adult, I don’t think it hurt the film that much to stick to a PG13 rating.

    Also, if you’ve been waiting your whole life for a version of one of your favourite books, it is almost inevitable that you will be disappointed with everything that doesn’t match up with the picture in your head. Look at the vocal minority that hated the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Adaptation is a very difficult artform; you can’t please everyone so you need to go for the biggest audience which usually isn’t the fans. Despite the fact that they have inspired so much of modern culture, I doubt that there are that many people who have read or even heard of the original books.

    I was discussing this with a bunch of other screenwriters this evening and we were all puzzled at the American Media’s vendetta against the film. They’re trying to convince everyone that John Carter is the next WaterWorld, a massively expensive flop. But despite a below average opening in the US, the film is performing extremely well internationally. I believe I heard that it was the single biggest opening weekend of a film in Russia ever.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a sequel in the next few years. Hell, I might try and weasel my way into Disney to write the damn thing.

  4. Not every property takes a PG rating. Dracula is not PG, Frankenstein is not PG. John Carter should not be PG. Ghost Rider should not be PG. The please everyone attitude generally pleases no one. With all the movies Arnold Schwarzenegger made, he is still quoted as the star of Conan and Terminator films. That movie made around $30 million in the early eighties, a profit yet no where near a blockbuster and people still talk about it. Movie houses are now all owned by giant corporate entities. They aren’t even happy with just a profit anymore. It’s got to be a giant profit! So everything has to be PG and have Aliens in it. Showbiz should always have that element of risk.

  5. I enjoyed the film! Yes, one must suspend their disbelief to enjoy but that’s ok sometimes 🙂 and I actually loved the John Carter character.

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