Ror Reviews: JOHN CARTER 3D
Andrew Stanton's first foray into live action has pretty much divided critics right down the middle, and us here on CBM too. Which side of the fence do I fall? Click to find out..
I'll be honest, I really wasn't expecting too much from the ol JC. The first "My Body Is A Cage" scored trailer piqued my interest, but every trailer since just made the movie seem like any other generic sci-fi actioner. Then the reviews hit and while many were positive, the ones that weren't singled out things that would usually turn me right off pretty much any movie. I don't allow critics to make up my mind for me, but bad reviews AND my own initial reservations meant my expectations were fairly low. And that could be one of the reasons I enjoyed the Helium out of it.
The story is pretty simple - John Carter winds up on Mars, meets aliens, falls for a Princess, has a change of heart about fighting for a cause, and fights for a cause. No, you won't be racing to keep up with the twists and turns in this one. But not every great story needs to be a complex one. And just because a movie's message might be viewed as simplistic, doesn't make it any less important. John Carter is a throwback to a simpler (more innocent?) age of movie-making, and in many ways is all the better for it. Although the source novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs (which I have not read incidentally) is basically the Grand Daddy of all science-fiction, the movie adaptation is not. And just because this story may predate Star Wars, Avatar and all of the other movies people will compare this to, the cold hard fact is that we have seen much of what happens in John Carter many times before. This didn't bother me too much though, because for me this type of movie lives or dies based on whether I care about what's happening to the characters involved, and I did. You could argue that John Carter himself is just a generic "hero" archetype with not much else to him, and that might be true..but at least he's a likable one. He's not an anti-hero, he's not particularly ruthless which may stop him from seeming "cool" to some. But sometimes all you need to get behind a guy is knowing he'll jump in to defend a helpless dog when it's being kicked.
Taylor Kitsch makes up for what he lacks in range with a strong screen presence, and a few dodgy moment aside (all of which can be attributed to the script, more on that later) he does a pretty good job overall. Better again is Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, delivering by far the best performance. If Thoris failed to gain our sympathies, the story wouldn't have worked. But Collins ensures she does that and much more, getting her hands - or blade - dirty along with everyone else. It probably doesn't hurt that she is a smokin hottie either of course. The next major supporting character is Thars Tarkas. He's a brilliant creation, brought expertly to life by Willem Dafoe and some outstanding CGI. And of course, there is Woola. This little pet/sidekick worried me the most when I saw the trailers, I thought we might have another Jar Jar on our hands. Fortunately, we do not - at all! Woola is a blast and works as comic relief while also tugging at your heartstrings with his cuteness and bravery. But where the movie really falls down character wise is its lack of a villain. I mean there ARE two of them in Mark Strong and Dominic West, but although both men deliver solid performances, they don't have enough to do to make us really hate - or love to hate them , and that doesn't make for a good villain. Still, Carter and his pals come up against plenty of trouble in the form of a nastier tribe of Tharks and some giant White Apes. Both leading to the action highlights of the movie. Indeed, the sequence in which Carter cuts down dozens of Tharks while flashing back to his family is quite brilliant.
Unfortunately John Carter does fall foul to what seem to have become some unwelcome staples of movies of this type: Quite a bit of cheesiness and an at times woeful script. I admit I did roll my eyes once or twice, but I had a smile on my face while I did it. Because although a few of the one-liners bomb, and towards the end the "Disney" really creeps in, Stanton and co ensure you are having too much fun to really care. A lot has been made about how expensive the movie is too, I'm not sure I really understand the problem. So maybe it doesn't quite reflect the amount of millions it cost, it delivers where it counts, and where so many other big special effects driven movies fail - it has heart, and a real sense of adventure. I'd happily see more cash spent this way than on another cynical, soulless piece of garbage from the likes of Michael Bay.
Not high art by any means, but a very enjoyable experience overall. John Carter currently sits at exactly 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that pretty much sums it up. I think this movie is either going to hook you right from the start, a few bumps aside, or leave you nodding off. If you are a fan of sci-fi and old school adventure movies with a bit of romance that actually works (I must be going soft in my old age!) I recommend you go find out for yourself. I had a big dopey grin on my Chevy Chase leaving the cinema anyway.
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