REVIEW: 'John Carter' - An Appreciated Sci-Fi Tale

Every time a movie that has been in development hell for over a decade has a lot of stink attached to it within the film and blogger community. You'd think that Disney has been designing and redesigning this epic to achieve some god-like status to take over for their 'Pirates' franchise. And you're not wrong to think so... but I fear that where this movie succeeds, Disney fails. See what I think of Andrew Stanton's (Dir. WALL-E & Finding Nemo) first live-action movie and adaption of one of the first science fiction serials of all time; Princess of Mars after the jump.

My expectations to see John Carter wasn't what you could consider excited but to be honest... I was worried. When you witness the stills and TV spots of John Carter; it feels like you're re-watching elements of Dune, Star Wars (A New Hope & Attack of the Clones), Cowboys & Aliens, and Avatar amongst many other science fiction films. So what could a Disney adaption bring to the table that utilizes these well practiced components in a way that feels new? By making it fun and incredibly story-driven.

John Carter is an adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs' 'A Princess of Mars' story which was published as a magazine serial in 1912 and again in 1917 as a novel. John Carter is a man who fought as a Captain for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. After the war and losing everything, his only goal was to strike it rich in gold but mysteriously (I'm not going to spoil it) ends up on Mars then which he is given the choice to fight in yet another Civil War. What makes him an incredible asset is that his body is accustomed to greater gravity than the natives making him stronger and more agile.

What makes this film unique is it's pacing which can falter in any film of any genre. I think is perfect blend of storytelling, action, and quirk. Now I'm not going to say that since the movie has multiple moments of exposition and some voice-over narrative that doesn't contain any plot holes because well... it does. I would like to forgive the film for those moments where they didn't revisit an interesting beat or reveal a beat that wasn't interesting at all but no worries Disney... I'm not your target demographic. That's where the action and quirk comes in. They're both visually stunning, gritty, and a complete mess at times. To me, that's to its benefit.

If I was a child, I would have loved this flick but would have been disappointed in the lack of faith Disney had in the product. Be that as it may, I'm not a child and I did enjoy myself for the most part. I liked Taylor Kitsch's portrayal of Carter even though the character is quite stiff to begin with but just the look of him fit the bill. Lynn Collins did a far better job as the wayward Princess Dejah Thoris. But to me, the star of this picture is the voice acting of Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas as he is both intimating and heartwarming. Perfect character to introduce that race of Martians.

Being that Stanton is a well acclaimed animation director of many Pixar films, he knew his strengths the same as Brad Bird did who also just recently made his first live action film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It's not fair to compare the two but given their source material, they both succeed in telling a story larger than itself.

Indeed my review is very straight forward and without much fluff because that's exactly how I felt when leaving the theater. John Carter is a solid entry into the hard science fiction realm of cinema. Even though I enjoyed the flick... for most audiences I believe this is going to appear more middle of the road or a moderate 2 hour experience. 

I'd recommend that if you have kids that are into Star Wars, this is yet another franchise to introduce them to. And don't stop there. The Princess of Mars was the first of 11 novellas (last one being published posthumously) which are gripping and by one the founding fathers of science fiction. Hence why all these other movies stole ideas and set pieces from it.

Is this film "theater worthy"?:
I loved it on the silver screen because who doesn't love an epic on the silver screen? I was in an audience around a 4 o'clock show on a Friday. About half full of children and adults alike and you can feel some excitement in that. Maybe it caused a slight bias? But hey... can't blame me for having a decent theater-going experience. 

My final thoughts:
As I said before, it's a middle of the road movie with some fine action and a constant bit of jest which can make any story easier to understand. While you're watching this movie; you'll feel like you learn so much of this world in so little time that you want more. But with the massive ballooning budget of $250 million, a decade of development hell, poor advertising, and even knowing it's a large Disney product, they offer no (that's right... NO) merchandising. I fear this franchise is doomed. It's a success for Andrew Stanton, Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins... but the failure on Disney's part hangs a dark cloud of it's future. 

Slamfist Rating: 7.0 out of 10

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