Thursday 15 March 2012

Review: John Carter

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

John Carter poster

John Carter
132 mins / Dir. Andrew Stanton

I'm hesitant to gush about Disney's latest offering, because I know that it won't be for everyone (and also because I know the danger of over-hyping a movie), but after repeated viewings of a frankly dull trailer, I'm pleased to report that John Carter is pretty fucking awesome.

It worried me that the Disney's interpretation of a story from Ye Olden Dayes would have about as much edge and punch as a beach ball (and it's certainly true that a lot of the messiest sword-hacking happens just out of shot), but the storytelling in JC is strong enough to render that irrelevant. Moreover, it's just good fun - something that the mouse-eared company often struggle with in live-action.

The Plot: America, the 1860's. Troubled prospector end ex-cavalryman John Carter has lost his way in life after the death of his wife and child. Chasing the dream of gold with debts piling up, a violent encounter in the wilderness leads John to find himself in a strange land with new enemies and unlikely allies. Adjusting to his new environment and powers that set him apart from those around him, John has to find his way home; once he works out where his home really is...

The Good: Thematically, it's The Hero's Journey to a tee, as you'd expect from a source text of a fantasy novel that's a century old. But whereas Prince of Persia and Immortals felt like they were trudging a well-worn path, there's a sense that John Carter helped lay that trail in the first place. Although the story has obviously been adapted for this re-telling, it still retains a strength that holds your attention for the whole two hours. You know John Carter's not going to die, but you're still engaged by the danger he's in, and you still want to know how he's going to overcome the odds against him.

On a purely aesthetic level, John Carter owes so much to the Star Wars prequel trilogy it's had to take out two mortgages. The fact that I frequently expected to see Jawas scuttling between the bronzed rocks only made me happier, when I'd usually be facepalming over that. I noticed (Attack of the Clones concept artist) Ryan Church's name in the credits, but didn't spot any other involvement from ILM or their alumini. The film also has substantial debts with Flash Gordon and 300, but none of this detracts from the matter that it looks and sounds gorgeous. It feels (to me) like an elaborate homage, rather than an easy rip-off.

The Bad: I found the score a little underwhelming, if I'm being honest, but that's probably because my brain was expecting to hear John Williams. As it stands, it's competent but unremarkable.

As the feisty princess Dejah, Lynn Collins' accent frequently sways between uptight-British and midwest-American, not unlike Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope. Her character also weaves from bold-scientist to warrior-princess to weeping-damsel in such rapid succession that you begin to wonder if her character is secretly triplets...

The Ugly: I could do without Mark Strong and Dominic West as the pantomime-villains, if only because they're beginning to be typecast in those roles and they can do so much more.

The Third Dimension: A nice addition and mostly well-rendered, but not a deal breaker. This will look just as good in 2D, but a big/hi-def screen is going to give you the best results.

After the Credits? No extras. Once the names appear on-screen, you can make your way out.

If you like them big, bold and rather fantastical, I'd recommend you leave the house to see this in the cinema.
John Carter will be the first new movie this year to get repeat viewings from me. I approve.


• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.


  1. Despite occasional moments of silliness, the old-fashioned sense of adventure and brilliantly rendered aliens elevate this above other derivative big-budget sci-fi fare. I still wished that Kitsch did a lot better in this lead role but he was only there for eye-candy really. Good review.

    1. Thanks, Dan.
      I'm going to give it another viewing to be sure, but I'm not entirely convinced that Kitsch is strong enough to lead the film (not yet, anyway). He's certainly likeable enough, but no matter how much dirt and stubble they apply, he seems too fresh-faced to be the warrior-saviour that Barsoon needs, and certainly too pretty to have lived the life he had back on Earth.

      I'm surprised they didn't get Jackman to do it.