If you're like most people in Ameirca, you're saying to yourself, "What in the hell is this John Carter crap I'm seeing on TV every ten minutes?" Well, I'll tell you real fast. John Carter is based on a book series written by Egar Rice Burroughs way back in 1912. It's considered the subject material for which ALL modern science-fiction was based on. It's a series that follows a Civil War veteran named John Carter who is transported to Mars where he aids in their own civil war. If that sounds too nerdy for you, then this movie isn't for you. If you are still interested, well, this might be the movie for you...maybe.
I consider myself a sci-fi nerd to an extent. I don't scoff at it and I can feast on some pretty out there stuff. When I heard they were making the John Carter series into movies, I was interested. I never read the books, like basically everyone still alive in America, but I had heard of them. When I heard that Disney was prepared to gamble with a monstrous budget and attached director Andrew Stanton (Findind Nemo, Wall-E) to it, I became very interested.
The entire film is littered with risks. For starters, the only recognizable stars in the film are Willem Dafoe, who is only the voice of a character and Mark Strong (Green Lantern, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as a shape-shifting character. The leads are played by Taylor Kitsch (X-Men: Origins, Friday Night Lights) and Lynn Collins (X-Men: Origins, True Blood). Both are realitvely unfamous and unfamiliar to American audiences. Both do a find job in the film though.
Beyond the casting of unknowns as leads, I also appreciate the guts it took to cast Collins as the sexy Princess of Mars. She's not your typicals leading lady. She's built like a fitness model and is on the thick side. She also has a wide jaw, big nose and dark skin. None of this makes her any less sexy, but it's a huge departure from what you typically see in films. I appreciate that and hope it catches on in Hollywood.
The storyline is nerdy stuff but not unfamiliar. If you enjoy Star Wars or Star Trek, you'll have no problem at all enjoying the complex plot and weird characters. It's actually really impressive that the story was conceived 100 years ago. Keeping that mind, it's a wonder that more people haven't read these books and why they're so honored by those that make their way in the genre. However, that is the downfall of John Carter.
Stanton does such a good job trying to keep the film loyal to the books so he doesn't upset the fanboy culture that the film is bogged down in details and entirely too long. The actual runtime of John Carter is 132 minutes but with trailers, you're in for a film that's over three hours long. That's a real challenge to anyone who goes to see this with zero knowledge of the legacy. The film starts strong and ends stronger, but the entire middle section is soggy, uninteresting and even boring at times.
The action sequences are good but they're nothing that's gonna blow you away. Even the 3D is there for depth and not amusement park gimmicks. Usually I respect directors who use 3D like that even more, but if there was ever a time to make me pull my head back during an exciting 3D action scene, it should be in a sci-fi epic like this.
It also lacks personality. It's a total shock considering that Stanton has made two of some of the best animated films of all time. Pixar doesn't pump out crap and I would have thought that he picked up some key qualities that make a film fun; comedy, heart, and energy. John Carter possess none of those qualities. A real problem if they plan on making more of the series, which Disney does. They are going to have an uphill battle winning people over after they sit through a three hour long sci-fi epic for the whole family that feels like a struggle to get through.
The good news for Disney is that John Carter is not a broken film. It's enjoyable and it leaves you with a very excited feeling. The ending is fun and twisty enough that you forget you sat through some pretty trying chunks of time. This franchise can be fixed and I hope that it does. It has promise, but this first attempt is pretty hard to follow and just too damn long.
John Carter (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B-