So begins another cinema blockbuster season chock full of action, explosions, shallow plots, spotty acting and 3D gimmickry in tow. John Carter, based upon the Barsoom series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is an action adventure following the eponymous character finding himself transplanted from post-civil war America to Mars (or Barsoom to the locals) and embroiled in an ongoing war between the native populations of the red planet. Think Avatar set in a desert, by way of Planet of the Apes minus the time travel, and you’ll be on the right track.
Flawed as it may be, which we will get to, there are some very entertaining aspects to this movie. The action is constant and exciting, the effects are for the most part very well produced, the sets and costumes (or lack thereof) are grand and consistent, and the 3D creates depth – helping to fully immerse you in the film’s world, rather than resorting to flinging debris or bullets out of the screen. Directed by Andrew Stanton, previously responsible for directing the fantastic Pixar films Finding Nemo and Wall-E, here making his live action debut. Taylor Kitsch in the title role of John Carter has the gruff masculinity, yet pretty boy, look required for a Disney blockbuster and Lynn Collins stylishly looks the part of the scientist/warrior princess, Dejah Thoris, although she becomes increasingly grating as the film wears on.
Wearing on is a very apt description as, rolling in at 2 hours 30 minutes, this isn’t a brief movie and it does get a bit lost in the middle, becoming very dialogue heavy, before picking up again towards the final action sequences. As is sometimes the case with blockbusters John Carter tries, and fails dismally, to involve the audience emotionally and delve too deeply into the characters backstories so as to better entice the viewer into narrative. It would have done better to eschew the poor attempt at depth and accept style over substance. There’s a whole middle chunk of the movie concerned with trying to flesh out the characters; a horrible moment of which pits Carter against an entire army, intercutting the fight sequence with the death and burial his family back on earth and the result is so tacky and lacking in sincerity that each second it continues is like having an army of baby Tharks stabbing you in the eyes.
But this is a movie involving a 19th century American army officer transported to Mars who, given the differing gravitational force, has enhanced strength (that translate mostly as an obscene ability to jump) so going in you can only expect the ludicrous. John Carter falls into the category of schlock films that allow you to sit down, shut off the brain and watch the pretty moving colours and in this function is performs well. It is nonsensically ridiculous, at times funny, constantly action-packed, maddeningly stupid but, for the most part, a fun ride. Should it have been better? Yes, given the directors previous animated output the pacing, characters, and script should have been better but shut off your brain and forgive it is follies and you might leave the theatre entertained.
6 out of 10 – you can tell by the trailer is this is going to be your sort of thing.
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