Rating: 3 of 5
There’s been a lot of speculation about John Carter, if not by you then at least by Kel and me. Is it the sort of movie, as most people expect, that is horrendous – trite and full of weird aliens and special effects but ultimately a lame movie? Because that’s what the marketing campaign largely portrays. Or in defiance of it’s marketing campaign is it a thoughtful, moving film that uses strange creatures to evoke larger themes and thrill and entertain at the same time that it majestically tugs at the heart?
The reality, as is not entirely surprising, is neither one or the other but somewhere in between.
It’s a strange world to enter with odd words if you haven’t read the book. Which makes the prologue largely unnecessary because I barely understood anything they were trying to inform me of and when the first ship battle happened I couldn’t tell the difference between the good guys and bad guys anyway. The good thing was that as Carter lives among the aliens, you acclimate to the foreign words pretty quickly and understand the power struggle and it all sorts itself out.
Though this dovetails into one moment I just felt sorry for Taylor Kitsch. Because no actor, however much they love a story or a character, wants to deliver a like like “In the name of Isis the Tharks ride to Zodanga.”
Other than that poor moment, Kitsch conveys a lot without seeming to convey anything at all. He’s handsome and brooding and a totally believable action figure. There’s a depth of thoughtfulness and subtlety to this performance that make him more than a stoic, one note actor. He’s magnetic which a role this big needs, especially when he’s virtually the only human character. And there’s a lot going on in his performance, but it’s mostly beneath the surface which is interesting.
I also liked Dejah and by extension Lynn Collins. I like that she was a strong heroine, smart and flawed and defiant and vulnerable. Because that really made her complex and a very human character rather than a one dimensional “strong heroine” who ostensibly doesn’t need anyone to save her. I liked that just because she’s smart and knows how to use a sword doesn’t prevent her from getting into scrapes she needs help getting out of or making a fool of herself.
All the other performances are hard to rate because it was essentially voice over work.
But the aliens were incredibly human and emotional. They seemed very real and substantial rather than just cgi constructs littering a green screen world. It all came across as tangible and authentic and I was surprised at how quickly the aliens stopped seeming like aliens and were just characters.
I liked that there was an element of humor laced through the film, very naturally instead of playing like moments of contrived comedy or the one lines that are expected in every action film.
But it was so over scored I could hardly stand it. I’m completely torn about how to rate the production because the cgi is phenomenal and the score was so over done they nearly cancel each other out.
Overall, I really respect what Andrew Stanton was trying for and I wanted him to succeed. I’m glad he was able to balance character moments with action so well that you’re drawn into the story and the characters, however odd and foreign they seem at first and still excited by the battles. Barring the fight scenes in the beginning which weren’t staged well. All the hits happened off screen and it didn’t really work.
Surprisingly, the few flashback moments were really artful and added emotional impact where they were placed. One in particular was incredibly well done.
John Carter really is good, without being brilliant; exciting and unexpected without being breathtaking and emotional though almost without being moving (but close).
ETA: Film Crit Hulk makes some excellent points in this review – namely that no movie needs 3 prologues and certainly not when none of them are the right one. I almost begrudgingly agree with his idea of the right prologue and the emotional impact it would have. Not because I think he’s wrong, he’s totally not. But because I really like the moment of catharsis in the middle of the movie where the “right” prologue actually plays out and I don’t know how that moment would be effected by a new, better, prologue. And I can’t argue with this, “THE UTTER RESULT IS A FILM THAT JUST SITS THERE, PLAYING OUT TO AN UNENGAGED AUDIENCE.” But there’s a lot more in his review about the difference between story and drama.
ETA: And here’s a piece in The New Yorker about Andrew Stanton where he directly contradicts the 3 prologue problem and it’s evident he wanted a similar play out of Marlin’s grief but it didn’t work in Nemo – why would it work in John Carter? Maybe, in this one instance, Stanton was just stubborn, or he didn’t have anyone to tell him it didn’t work.
ETA: “It’s ingenuity, not money, that counts, and sometimes the most inspired filmmaking happens when people don’t have the money to do everything they want.” I think a smaller budget would have actually made this a better film (from Movieline’s review).