Josh Wilding Reviews: JOHN CARTER 3D
Has the director of Wall-E managed to successfully make the transition to live action? Well, the film has divided critics so far, but here is my take on the adaptation of the 100-year-old novel by Edgar Burroughs Rice in this spoiler-free review.
John Carter is boring. Admittedly that's a statement you don't often read about even the worst blockbuster, but there's just no two ways about it. With an impressive résumé which includes superb Pixar movies Finding Nemo and Wall-E, you might have been fooled into thinking that director Andrew Stanton's first live action feature would be as impressive as Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Nope. John Carter fails on nearly every conceivable level. However, one area where the film is near-flawless is the CG. The Tharks (the Martian residents of the planet) all look completely convincing, while the various ships and cities look equally as impressive and stunning. Unfortunately, even the visual effect aren't entirely flawless. Before he ends up on Mars (sorry, Barsoom) John Carter finds himself in the Arizona desert. Apart from a few rocky landmarks scattered throughout the environment, there's very little to distinguish the two locations. The Red Planet just ends up looking a bit dull. The 3D is also a complete and utter waste of time, failing to add any real depth and generally coming across as lifeless as it does in most other conversions these days.
There's not a lot to say about the story because there isn't much of one. John Carter isn't a particularly interesting protagonist and apart from finding out early on that he clearly doesn't want to serve in the Confederacy, the writers give us very little reason to actually care about him. Instead, he sort of wanders from one situation to the next in a quest to get back home to claim some gold and get rich. Thankfully, Taylor Kitsch manages to inject a fair bit of likeability into him in a performance which ultimately fails to cement his leading man status but does get him part of the way there. "The Princess of Mars" (Dejah Thoris) is brought to life by Lynne Collins. However, the actress comes across as stiff for the most part and tends to look incredibly uncomfortable. Her chemistry with Kitsch is passable, but their relationship isn't anywhere near as memorable as many of those seen in various other classic sci-fi films. Dominic West doesn't have much to sink his teeth into and his performance is nowhere near as impressive as his turns in The Wire and The Awakening. Mark Strong is on surprisingly weak form once again playing a bad guy, while Ciaran Hinds shows up in his third lousy performance of the year (the other two being The Woman in Black and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston turns up for a few minutes and both Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church deliver decent enough vocal performances as Tars Tarkas and Tal Hajus.
Of course, it's hard to criticise any of the actors for offering up such mediocre performances when the script gives them such uninteresting material to work with. The major problem with John Carter is that it feels like we've seen it all before (probably because we have). An arena battle which isn't anywhere near as exciting as the trailers would have you believe is lifted straight out of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; a pursuit on a flying speeder is reminiscent of both the podrace in The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi's chase on Endor. An out of place lead who finds himself eventually wanting to help the locals (Avatar) and a princess who wants to get out of a forced marriage (too many movies to mention) are more clichés which will leave you keeping one eye on the screen and another on the clock. In fairness, it would be unfair to say that John Carter doesn't at least try to put its own stamp on these moments, but the fact they all feel so familiar does little to help it. Fans of the books will likely argue that it was those movies which all lifted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is shoehorned into the film by way of a ridiculous cameo) novels, but that's irrelevant to the regular theatregoing audience who will find the material stale.
That's not to say it's all bad. One stand out scene sees Carter taking on countless Tharks as we simultaneously flashback to a tragic event in his past. Carter's pet Woola is an enjoyable enough CG creation that offers up a few laughs here and there. The ending is also a nice pay-off and a perfect set-up for a sequel which you probably won't want by the time the credits roll. Some are sure to find more to enjoy than others, but there's a real lack of many other truly memorable action set-pieces. The whole thing is just disappointing and while it's not fair to say that it's a BAD film, it isn't a very good one either. At times, John Carter does give us a fleeting glimpse of what could have been; a film which would have sat comfortably alongside the likes of the classic Star Wars trilogy. Sadly, what Stanton delivers is something more akin to the prequels.
The fantastic visual effects can't make up for the one dimensional characters and a mediocre script. Wherever that rumoured $250 million budget went, there's no getting around the fact that this might just be one of the biggest wastes of money in the history of cinema.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic tale of interplanetary adventure arrives on the big screen in this sweeping sci-fi spectacle marking the live-action debut of Oscar-winning director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E). Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) was still haunted by the violence he witnessed on the battlefield when he inexplicably awoke on the distant planet of Barsoom (Mars). Upon learning that the inhabitants of Barsoom are bracing for a major conflict and that war appears inevitable, John finds out that love is a rare commodity on the Red Planet, and summons the courage to be the hero the Martians have been hoping for. Meanwhile, John falls under the spell of the enchanting Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who struggles to suppress her compassion in a society known for its warlike ways. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, and Mark Strong co-star.
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