Film review: John Carter
Film work details
Title: John Carter
Produced by: Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Screenplay written by: Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon and Andrew Stanton
Adapted from the book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem DaFoe, Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston and Thomas Haden Church
From Academy Award–winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes John Carter—a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars
Genre: Action, adventure, Sci-Fi
(Age) rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence
Reviewer rating: 4 1/2 Popcorns out of a possible 5
When young Edgar Rice Burroughs arrives at the estate of his recently deceased uncle, former Confederate cavalry officer John Carter, he finds out he is the sole heir of the estate. There is a prerequisite to the inheritance, though, one that is to be revealed to him in his uncle's journal. As Burroughs begins reading he is introduced to a fantastic story, one that explains the reasons for his uncle’s strange actions during the years leading up to his death.
Carter’s tale begins in the ArizonaTerritory in 1868, where he has been prospecting for gold since the end of the war. He has just found a large amount of gold when he is taken captive by the 7th regimen. Brought to speak to a Colonel Powell, it is apparent the regimen, having heard tales of Carter’s bravery, want him for a special assignment. Before this assignment is laid out Carter escapes, with Powell leading a force to bring him back. But during the pursuit Carter is met by a group of Apaches, and while he speaks with them one of Powell’s men shoots and kills one of the tribe members. The Apaches take offense now and when Powell is wounded Carter takes him to a cave for shelter. The cave, however, is already occupied by a strange being who doesn’t care for the intrusion and tries to kill Carter. When Carter defends himself a medallion the being had worn opens up. Carter is teleported out of the cave and finds himself in a dessert.
Carter is in a place like no other he’s ever seen (it is actually Mars, though Carter won’t find this out for some time). The landscape is much different than that of Earth and he has the ability to spring in marvelously great distances. But soon he is taken captive by warriors from a tribe of very tall four-armed creatures who call themselves Tharks. Although the tribe is hostile to Carter his life is spared by the compassionate leader (or Jeddak) named Tars Tarkas. While in captivity Carter also makes friends with a gentle female Thark named Sola, who provides him with a sacred drink that gives him the ability to understand and communicate with the tribe. He also learns from the Tharks that this strange world is called Barsoom.
Meanwhile, Barsoom’s technically advanced cities of Helium and the Zodanga are engaged in war. This war has raged for some time and the more aggressive Zodangas are threatening to destroy their enemies. Princess of Helium, a scientist named Dejah Thoris, has almost discovered the secrets of a special weapon, called the Ninth Ray, which has been used by the Zodanga. Dejah hopes to reveal her findings to her people so they may engage the Zondang on equal footing. But before she can raise support for the project she is informed by her father that it has been arranged for her to marry the Zolangan prince, General Sab Than.. Being a good daughter Dejah consents; but she isn’t happy about wedding a murderous man who has no apparent use for women except to slaughter them. When Dejah attempts to bring down the ship carrying her soon-to-be husband fate lands her in the arms of John Carter.
Aiding Sab Than is a weapon more powerful than even the Ninth Ray: the Therns, an alien race of shape-shifters with intelligence and powers that far exceed any other known people. It was a Thern who possessed the medallion that teleported Carter to Barsoom. The Therns are entrusted by the Zodanga for council, believing the Therns support their campaign. But the Therns’ true motive for being involved in the war is much more insidious than anyone imagines.
I was a little apprehensive when I started watching this film. I’ve never read Burroughs’ John Carter books and I couldn’t help but remember way back when I was young and watched David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time. I had not read any of those books yet and and Lynch’s attempt to compress the entire saga into a single piece made for one very confusing and convoluted mess. My other concern with this movie is that it is a Disney production, and I rather expected the same kind of annoying, sophomoric camp that saturated the National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean series
Thankfully, John Carter doesn't suffer from either of these problems. The storyline had its intricacies but they were articulately laid out. I also appreciated the maturity of the script; it was recognizably written to entertain thinking adults. The actors gave quality performances, and the CGI special effects were high quality without being overemphasized.
The Tharks were intriguing characters. Their customs were at times savage and I could see where this threatened to elevate them toward the capacity for mass destruction that plagued the more technically advanced races. And yet the humane Tars Tarkas seemed to represent a budding communal desire to throw off the barbaric tendencies and return to a more spiritually balanced way of life.
On the other hand, there was the Therns. These are the epitomes of devious politicians and involve themselves in the fate of every civilization they find. In the movie they gave the perception of altruistic counselors, but in truth they seek only to work the puppet strings of the most aggressive leaders of the worlds they visit.. Their aim is to bring war and chaos so oblivion of the worlds will follow. Altogether they were quite a menacing and spiritually distasteful set of villains.
I very much liked the character of John Carter. Just under the surface of his brusque manners he is humane to the core. During the story we find out that he suffered greatly at the hands of the Union army. This suffering helps him to be the sympathetic and heroic man he is.
If I had one problem with the movie it is with the formulaic persona given to the character of Dejah Thoris. It seems the filmmakers weren’t content with her being an intelligent scientist with a heart of her own, they had to throw in the kick-ass heroine slant, too. At least she’s not a completely raging amazon - in the end the hero is allowed to be the hero and we get the sense Dejah accepts this and happily so. Still, the bowing to stereotypes does make for a stilted heroine.
This film is impressive. The visual effects are inspired and the acting excellent. The themes touch on political situations similar to ones faced in our contemporary world, with an intricate plot that is clearly presented. I was intrigued by the characters and also delighted by how the writers provided further surprise once it appeared John Carter’s tale had ended. With the high level of maturity written into the script I felt respected as a viewer. John Carter is a very satisfying story, one that will enchant and challenge the imagination!
Following the release of its release Disney pulled promotion on John Carter, citing almost immediately it was doomed to be a box office flop. Subsequently it did flop domestically, HOWEVER box earnings globally have proved wildly favorable. This leaves me wondering how much the Disney execs’ reaction on seeing the film for the first time –and in particular, realizing the hero was a Confederate soldier and the Union forces were the Earthly bad guys- had to do with their prompt decision to cut promotion. While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the trend-conscious Disney did make this decision in order to protect the sentiments of a political base it is a sad Thern-worthy irony indeed if true.
Reviewer rating – 4 ½ Popcorns
Review ©April 14, 2012 by Beth Perry
More by this Author
The 25 Scariest Movie Scenes of All Time (a viewer's list)
A fun trivia quiz about cold, snow and winter in movies and films.
A selection of non-alcoholic Irish-themed beverages, great for St. Patrick's Day or other celebrations.