John Carter

John Carter Poster Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Once upon a time, the folks at Disney wanted to make a movie that combines the qualities of Westerns, War Epics, and Science Fiction. 250 million dollars later, and we are introduced to the vast and zealous vision of “John Carter”. Here is a concept that’s big enough to spawn its own franchise. Heck, I’m already saving up for the Happy Meal collectibles it will inspire at McDonalds. The movie’s franchise-sized idea holds good potential, but too much set-up is dedicated into this one movie that there is isn’t anything in it except for those darn set-ups.

The film follows the journey of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War Veteran from Virginia who isn’t in good terms with the local authorities. His attempts to elude imprisonment lead him to a cave with a well-dressed alien loitering within it. He knocks the bastard down. It instinctively pulls out a glowing medallion and starts reciting something in its native language. Carter grabs the medallion, and before he could sell it to the nearest pawnshop, he is transported to Mars. It is there where he comes across with the green-skinned, four-eyed Tharks. Fascinating creatures these Tharks are. If a giant caterpillar and a tall NBA player ever had a love child, it would look something close to a Thark.

Tas Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and John Carter (Taylor Kitsch)Like all beauty pageant contestants, what the Tharks really want is world peace, but their influence is limited by their meager population and inferior technology. A great war between the mighty cities of Helium and Zodanga is at its peak. This issue is expanded with heavy exposition: The people from Helium are the good guys, and it’s Zodanga that’s causing all the trouble. They want to seize Helium so they could win the ultimate prize: Mars, a wasteland the size of a planet. Of all the citizens of Helium, it is its princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), that is most fearful of defeat. If their army is unable to fight off the soldiers of Zodanga, she will be forced to marry its leader, Kantos Kan. One thing I like about Dejah Thoris is the fact that she is one helluva scientist. We finally meet an intelligent woman in a Summer Blockbuster Movie, and she’s from another planet.

Besides John Carter’s encounters with the Tharks, and besides the dispute between Helium and Zodanga, and besides the efforts of the princess to prevent her forced marriage, is a subplot involving the shape-shifting Therns. Equipped with great powers that can vaporize any structure and being, they hide. Of course. Anyway, there’s also this story about a plan to conquer… but why continue? “John Carter” is all introductions and explanations and discussions separated by brief and generic action sequences. John Carter himself is a dull and bland character; he is one of those heroes who is defined by their special ability. But even that part is underwhelming. The lower Martian gravity allows him to leap at great lengths, but so what? I like Roger Ebert’s observation: “When it is possible to teleport yourself from Earth to Mars, why are you considered extraordinary because you can jump really high?”

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in John CarterThere is a 30-second span in the film where John Carter slashes his way through dozens and dozens of towering aliens. In a later scene, we see him use a chain to hurl a large boulder against a monster. How is this possible for a Civil War veteran from Virginia? Did the change in gravity also grant him super strength? Some more observations: Where do the Martians get all the materials to build their complex space ships and gadgets? Since there is no vegetation in sight to supply oxygen, what keeps John Carter alive? Why won’t the Therns use their vaporizing weapons when needed? Why do the citizens of Helium and Zodanga look like… Americans? If they are Earthlings who arrived before John Carter, then why is their blood blue?

I’m sure everything in the movie is better explained in “A Princess of Mars”, the book from which “John Carter” is based upon. Maybe it’s one of those novels that doesn’t translate well in film. Books contain more space for plotting and characterization. 132 minutes is quite long for a film, yet it wasn’t enough for the broad story of “John Carter”. I mean, if Mr. Carter and Ms. Thoris got married, and they had children, and they scratched their arm, will purple blood come out?

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John Carter