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Theatrical Review: JOHN CARTER

John Mulhern

March 10th, 2012

Although sometimes we might take it for granted, we are very lucky to live in the time that we do. Everyone carries computer-phones in their pockets that rival the technology found in science fiction novels, we are all connected together via a web of information that we call the Internet, and production value of cinema can be so impressive that we might question which parts of it are real or fake.

Enter Disney's JOHN CARTER. The story is based off the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, you guessed it, named John Carter. The film is directly inspired by Burroughs' novel The Princess of Mars, and follows Carter, who is played by Taylor Kitsch. Carter is an American Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to the planet Mars. On Mars, his Earth muscles give him the impressive ability to jump extremely long distances in a single bound, which causes him to stand out to the local inhabitants. He ultimately finds himself in the middle of a war between two cities of seemingly-human beings, and one more traditional alien race. I know, it sounds like a delicious entree of sci-fi goodness, but does it deliver?

Sadly, it really doesn't. The film marks the live-action directorial debut of FINDING NEMO's Andrew Stanton, who has proven himself firmly as a filmmaker with his Pixar work. To Stanton's credit, the film is one of the best looking films to ever hit the big screen. Mars is a sight to be seen, and every aspect of it's design is obviously meticulously designed and planned out. The architecture is impressive, the topography is gorgeous, and never once did I question the authenticity of Mars. Not to mention the design of every alien race in the film, especially the computer-generated Tharks, which are so very realistic and well designed. Take all of that and put some really fun 3-D on top of it, and you've got a damn good looking film.

The performances are quite good, too. Lynn Collins plays the female lead Dejah, a martian princess. She is very much the glue that holds the film together. Her performance is fun and engaging, and her chemistry with Taylor Kitsch is kinetic. Willem Dafoe plays one of the Tharks, and puts every ounce of enthusiasm and character into the role, and it is quite a marvel. Kitsch is a mostly good lead, certainly the weakest link of the bunch, but he looks the part and pulls it off well enough.

Unfortunately, the shortcomings outweigh the good. The plot is horribly convoluted and extremely hard to follow, and much like John Carter does in the film, it jumps all over the place. New characters show up frequently out of nowhere, without any good explanation of who they are. The pacing is quite bad, and often gives us long periods of slow sequences before giving us something more exciting to chew on. Even the action sequences, save the gladiator-esque sequence in the second act, truly aren't that memorable. The final scenes of the movie were easily the best part, bringing everything full-circle in a fulfilling way. It is a shame they couldn't hold that magic for the whole movie - a slightly better script truly would have made a world of difference.

JOHN CARTER is a very big movie, and obviously seen as the possible start to a new franchise for Disney. Truthfully, I really hope it does turn into a franchise. If Disney were to bring Stanton back again, a sequel could improve upon this well established universe. He directed the film very well, and all the inherent flaws that the film has should be easy enough to address. The world of John Carter is so very rich, and Burroughs has written many more stories featuring the character and his adventures on the red planet.

Here's to hoping those other stories are brought to life, because JOHN CARTER is a very encouraging live-action start for Stanton, but unfortunately does not deliver the way it should have.

Rating: C

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