Movie Review: John Carter
By Felix Quinonez Jr.
March 15, 2012
One particular scene, in which Carter slays countless Tharks, initially looks like a pointless excuse to show off the movie’s budget. Then, something strange happens. The scene is intercut with flashbacks of Carter back on earth as he’s burying his wife. This not only adds pathos to the events but it also reminds you of the real consequence of war - death. That’s not something that usually comes to mind when we see a movie’s hero casually mowing down the enemies. Another scene in which Carter fights a giant white ape in an arena also stands out because it is genuinely thrilling and there is a real sense of danger to it.
But the best parts of the movie are the quieter ones, the ones where Carter is establishing new relationships among other characters and his new surroundings. I especially enjoyed the initial meeting between Carter and Tars Tarkas, (William Dafoe) a Barsoomian warrior. Watching the two of them trying to figure each other out is one of the movie’s great delights. And there are plenty of enjoyable moments, but just how much fun they are depends on the viewer. The scene in which Carter realizes that he can jump incredibly high because of the planet’s low gravity is really fun. I thought seeing him struggle to simply stay on ground was really cool, but I could picture some viewers rolling their eyes or thinking it’s a bit cheesy. The same can be said about the movie’s running joke regarding the Tharks’ misunderstanding of Carter’s name.
The movie also benefits from having a very dedicated cast. John Carter is a prototypical hero, so a portrayal could easily come off as bland, but Kitsch does a really good job. He gives a very committed performance that is both endearing and engaging. It never feels like he is sleepwalking through his role. The same can be said about Lynn Collins (who previously shared the screen with Kitsch in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as the princess Dejah Thoris. Collins brings a welcome fire to her role and has great chemistry with Kitsch. But Dafoe has the most memorable performance. He makes Tars Tarkas the most interesting character, which is no small feat since we never actually see the actor.
I have to admit I was a bit worried that Stanton’s first live action film would be such a big budget release. I had the same concerns with Brad Bird directing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and I am glad to say that I was wrong on both cases. Stanton shows a deft hand at directing actors and he gets great performances from his cast. Above all, he is a great visual story teller. Understanding the power of fear left unseen, he frames various shots that leave the action just outside the frame. It raises the tension as it slowly reveals the danger the characters are facing.
But don’t get me wrong. The movie is definitely not perfect. At times it tries so hard to impress with CGI that it is hard to follow the action. And for a movie with such a big budget, the special effects look a bit cheesy in various parts. This is especially evident in the earlier parts of the movie as Carter is learning to jump. I’ve seen Smallville do the same thing more convincingly – and it obviously had a much smaller budget. It’s also kind of hard to really care about the big conflict on the planet or even tell the two sides apart. One side wears blue capes, the other red? And like most movies these days, it goes a bit crazy with plot twists. Seriously, when did happily ever after stop being good enough?
It’s almost too bad that the studio tried so hard to attract every demographic because the movie - like John Carter himself - might not be for everyone. It definitely has its flaws and Stanton didn’t knock it out of the park like Bird did with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but John Carter is definitely a lot of fun. It’s like watching an old pro come out of retirement to show these young cats how it’s done. So ignore the noise and sit back and enjoy. You’ll believe a man can jump really high...and it’s awesome.