John Carter (2012)
I had to really. I didn't want to, but you made me do it. My continued devotion to providing you with unbiased, honest critique of what Hollywood is trying to get you to part with your hard-earned folding paper money for inevitably brought me to this. Part Cowboys & Aliens, part Prince of Persia, part Avatar, you need to take everything you see here with a pinch of salt. There is little to John Carter that makes sense, even from how it got to the screen in the first place, after an equal multitude of 'nearly' and 'no chance' with regards the possibility of its cinematic adaptation. The film is based on the Princess Of Mars series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs a century ago and if you are a sci-fi fan, you will see alot of your favourite films hidden away here, such is Burroughs accepted responsibility for the genre, cited by many as their inspiration. He is, by some, to science fiction what Einstein is to science.
This episode sees the arrival of John Carter to Mars. He is a violent civil war fighter who when detained, tries to flee his captors. When he does, he heads for the hills of Virginia, which is where his adventures really begin, inexplicably teleported to Mars, into a global battle that he will, unbeknownst to him, have a greater part in than he can possibly even begin to imagine.
His arrival sparks a furore about his powers (he can jump great heights, due to what we know as the difference in gravity between the two planets in question) with the indigenous tribes and the humanoids that inevitably also come across him. He saves a Princess, gets into a scrap with almost everything he comes across and there is much general derring-do, swords, sandals and lots and lots of sand. The creature special effects are good enough, but seem like a throwback to The Phantom Menace, so could be viewed by some as past their sell-by date, the story is simple, but littered with obstacles for Carter to overcome. The script is simple, but effective enough to drag the plot, such as it is, kicking and screaming along with it.
The cast, despite what you may have heard, doesn't do bad with the material. Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris) are both equally reliable. Kitsch plays Carter as rough, ready and humane to a fault, where Collins is a less endowed and emotionally strangled version of Xena Princess Warrior. Supported by Mark Strong, Dominic West, Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton, there is buckets of genuine acting talent on show, but you do wish Disney would have made more of them. Andrew Stanton has proved over and again that he is a master of character development and it is odd that he hasn't made this more prevalent here. There is a surprising amount of two-dimensionality here in the characters that makes a bit of a mockery of the talent that is gathered.
Regardless, the film is a treat for sci-fi fans everywhere, even with its storytelling shortcomings and questionable plot development. It is still a big bag of fun for audiences, who will flock to see it not for the nuances that have been overlooked, but for the big loud crunching and otherworldly rollercoasters it takes them on. Don't expect Oscar performances or even an adequate script, but take your family-size popcorn and your litre of Pepsi and have your head blown off by the grandeur, the cinematography and the good old-fashioned blockbusteriness of it all, and you won't go far wrong.