Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter

Get out your scantily clad women and green aliens, we're reviewing John Carter!
Carter! Get your ass to Mars! Did someone use that joke already?
I so wish this was still called "John Carter of Mars." It would have made so much more sense to the context of the movie. As it stands, it's pretty good. It feels a lot like Pirates of the Caribbean, or a Star Wars film. Think of it this way, it's better than the prequels, but not as good as the originals.

John Carter(Taylor Kitsch) is dead as the movie begins, and it's up to his nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs(Daryl Sabara, also, neat joke) to read his journal and discover his fantastic story. John Carter's story begins in the middle of the desert, when he's cornered in a cave and is inexplicably zapped to Mars, in which he's thrust into a giant war between Zodanga, Helium, and the Tharks.

Considering some of the reviews and it's rotten tomato score, I expected John Carter to be a lot worse than it was. It's got lots of great action, a wonderfully built world, and plenty of humor.  I was surprised how funny and enjoyable it is!  Even the parts when Carter isn't on mars are enjoyable.  It's always cool to see Carter leap through the air and they did a wonderful job on all the visual effects. I'll be disappointed if it doesn't get nominated for something.  There's one especially good fight scene in the middle that has a huge emotional charge. Very moving, bloody stuff.
"Have you ever seen Conan? No, the one with that guy from Game of Thrones..."
That's not to say it's all perfect.  It can get really confusing with all the exposition towards the middle, and you never get a real sense of why the evil guys are being evil. Because they're bored? Becuase they feel like it? It's never really apporpriately answered, even though they have an incredibly cliched scene in which the bad guy explains EVERYTHING to the hero for no discernible reason.  Seriously, why does the bad guy explain all this? Is it just so the audience is aware of some loosely veiled convoluted reason? Ok then.

You know how Star Wars is great, but people can make careers(Family Guy, Robot Chicken) by punching holes in the logic? This is where it falls apart as a film. There are a number of parts where characters clearly could have killed other characters, but choose to leave them alive because the story needed them to.  You'll find yourself asking "Why?!" of the characters alot.  John Carter's strength also feels like it's only there when the story needs it.  Why can he break chains and insta-kill guards at one point and not another?

Personally, though I found it cute naming his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs, I would have liked it much better if they didn't have that story framing the rest of the adventure. It could have had as strong a beginning, or stronger, if they had started the film when you meet John Carter in Arizona, and the whole thing at the end seems like a really roundabout and convoluted plan on everyone's part just to get back to a point they were at ten minutes before.  And if you think about it, it kind of kills the tension. If he wrote the journal, obviously he made it back to Earth at some point, right?

The acting also has something left to be desired.  John Carter and Princess Dejah Thoris(Lynn Collins) are both badass characters and can handle themselves well enough in a fight, but they're also guilty of some over-the-top overacting.  There are some good parts, and then there are some schlocky parts.  Acting aside, I really like the characters of Carter and the princess. He's reluctant to fight for very good reasons, and he knows how to get himself out of dangerous situations.  She's a fighter willing to do anything for her people, and no one calls her out on being a woman AND a warrior.  Willem Defoe and Thomas Haden Church on the other hand are great in their respective voice acting roles as the giant four-armed Tharks.
Tell me you haven't been waiting for a movie with giant green four armed aliens. Right?
It's a bit hard to judge this movie as being full of tropes, because this is the story that created those tropes. There's nothing really new here: a princess in danger, an arena fight, a holy crap we have to stop the wedding moment, a reluctant hero, a huge climactic fight involving everyone ever...they're done well, but it will feel familiar at best, tropey at worst.  If anything, it's still a load of fun.  It also feels exactly like a Disney movie: there's a badass princess, loads of humor but also highly emotional moments, and also a cute scene-stealing dog character.
Adorable, right?!

The score was completed by one of my favorite composers, Michael Giacchino.  It can be really moving at times(especially during a fight near the middle, you'll know the one), and quick-paced and actiony at others.  Like the movie, it's beautiful and highly enjoyable.

And lastly, don't bother with the 3D. There are a few nice wide shots of Mars that get enhanced, and maybe one 2 second flying sequence, but for the rest of the film you'll forget why you're wearing glasses.  Which is sad, because they could have taken some real advantages with all the action sequences.

THE GOOD: Fun, funny, liked John Carter and the princess as characters, cute monster dog, great action, especially one emotional sequence, great score, stunning visuals and world.

THE BAD: Story logic doesn't make sense, can get confusing, John Carter's strength comes and goes, villains don't have motivation, can be tropey, acting is sometimes not that great.

THE VERDICT: I'd recommend it! It's a fun film overall, and though you'll question why stuff is happening in the story, you'll still enjoy it for what it is.  Think Star Wars if you've never seen Star Wars.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Every other sci-fi fantasy ever

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: The arena scene in which John Carter kills two giant white apes while chained to a rock. It's fun and action packed, but here are a number of things that don't make sense: He has super strength and can kill a Thark in one punch, but never thinks to kill the guards BEFORE he chains them to a rock. The Tharks hammer it in, and they're not as strong as him, so why couldn't he dig the spike out? He doesn't have enough chain to fully jump over a giant white ape, but he somehow has enough chain for it to get tangled up and wrap around the entirety of the great white ape 4 or 5 times, AND still have plenty of slack.  Like I said, it's fun if you don't think about it too much.


  1. Awesome review! I couldn't agree with you more. I honestly had to watch the movie twice to let it all sink in. Also the fight scene in the middle - awesomely emotional/action-packed. I also really enjoyed the ending although it came a lot faster than expected.

  2. Ha! That's funny because I also watched it twice. Thanks! Yeah man, that middle fight scene was the high point of the movie. I kind of wish they had put it later for a greater impact, but still great.