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Old 03-12-2012, 11:12 PM
Andrew Stanton's John Carter

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:

John Carter (2012)

“John Carter” is a strange combination of genres that we don’t get to see very often. On the one hand, it wants to be a western, borrowing several elements of the genre, and on the other, it wants to be a science-fiction action epic with its multiple action sequences featuring lots of bizarre alien technology. The last time we saw these two genres blended together (“Cowboys & Aliens”), things didn’t turn out quite so well, but that didn’t deter these filmmakers from attempting to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’s story to life.

The film begins with a prologue explaining how there is a great power struggle taking place on Mars between two cities, Helium and Sodanga. A warlord of Sodanga has been chosen by a goddess to be the next ruler of the planet, granting him the use of a powerful weapon. This warlord, Sab Than (Dominic West), proposes that, to end hostilities and unite the cities, he should marry Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins), a prospect that doesn’t sit particularly well with her.

This is intertwined with the story of Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a cavalryman in Virginia in 1868 on the hunt for a cave full of gold. On this hunt, he gets picked up by the Army, who plan to ship him out to Arizona to fight off Indians. However, Carter escapes and coincidentally comes across a cave with gold. In this cave he also meets a strange man who doesn’t seem like he’s even from Earth, and before he knows it, Carter is transported to Mars by a medallion.

It’s not long before he comes across an alien race known as the Tharks, who are ruled by Tars Tarkus (Voice of Willem Dafoe). The Tharks are impressed by Carter’s amazing ability to jump great distances due to the lower gravity, which comes in handy when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a shooting match between two ships. Aboard one ship is Dejah, running away from the proposed marriage, while the other ship is attempting to retrieve her. With Carter’s help, she successfully completes her escape. Eventually, the two unite on a quest to bring peace back to the war-torn planet.

“John Carter” is certainly an interesting idea for a film with a power struggle on an alien world and an outsider affecting the balance, but sadly it never ends up fully working. While it seems like it has a lot of story, most of it is merely set up to the actual plot, leading to a kind of “story deficit” for the remaining two-thirds of the film. It remains mildly intriguing throughout, but with the film being stretched out to over two hours, you begin to feel the strain rather early on.

The blending of the two genres is done rather well, allowing the audience to witness a fascinating juxtaposition to the alien world of Mars and its technology after having started on 19th century Earth. In fact, it ends up being a much more successful merger of western and sci-fi than “Cowboys & Aliens” was, particularly because the story is stronger, yet still not strong enough to save it overall.

The biggest problems occur mainly in the second act where things slow down for far too long. The first act had been quite exciting and the third act picks this up again for the most part, but that slog through the second act, which is where it feels particularly stretched out, makes it feel like a number of minutes could have been trimmed. This would have probably given the film a tighter pace and made it flow much better than it did. The filmmakers were definitely going for an epic here, but in order to warrant an epic length, you need enough story to fill that time, something that the writers tried to do through this prolonged second act and the film’s multiple action sequences.

These sequences do become a bit of a highlight for the film. They are well-done, exciting, and feature some interesting vehicles and weapons, but eventually you get the urge for the story to move on. This eventually comes down to the big finale, which oddly gave off a strange “Flash Gordon” vibe as Carter flies toward a major city to try to put an end to a wedding between a warlord and the woman he loves. All that was missing was the giant forcefield and music by Queen.

The performances are not exactly anything to rave about, but it is interesting that the studio would take such an enormous risk by casting the unknown Kitsch, whose most noted film appearance before this was probably in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” in a $250 million gamble. All eyes are going to be on the film to see how it ends up performing overall as the studio is hoping to create a new and profitable franchise out of Burroughs’s “John Carter” books.

If another film is made, hopefully they’ll take a little more time in getting the story right before making it. This first one has been in development for a long, long time, which makes it surprising that it wasn’t stronger than it was. There are certainly things to like about it such as the production design, the action sequences, and the intriguing set-up of the story, but overall, the execution of the remainder of the story and the pacing end up holding it back from becoming the rousing adventure it could have been. 2.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 03-12-2012 at 11:21 PM..
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