John Carter

Posted March 9, 2012 by in


Total Score

3/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: science fiction, action-adventure
Director: Andrew Stanton
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Actors: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: 3/9/2012
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
What We Thought

Visually, John Carter is a stunning film. The pacing is brisk, and there’s no shortage of action scenes. While it’s fun and overall entertaining, it is overly-ambitious and confusing, and doesn’t work well as a narrative.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Captain John Carter of the Confederate Army stumbles upon a cave with walls of gold.  The cave has some mysterious purpose—and a hidden guardian appears to ensure that Carter doesn’t discover its secret.  Carter, a formidable fighter, defeats the guardian.  In his dying moments, the guardian activates a strange device.  Carter snatches the device at the last moment, and finds himself transported to a faraway land.
     Shortly after his arrival, a tribe of primitive creatures takes Carter captive.  The creatures, called Tharks—a race of four-armed humanoids with green skin and tusks protruding from their jaws—sit on the sidelines of a civil war between the Barsoomians, a human-like race of the Barsoom planet.  An aerial battle rages over the Thark’s city, where Carter gets a glimpse of a woman about to fall from a Barsoomian ship.  Carter leaps into the air and saves the woman, and dispatches her attackers.  Carter discovers she’s Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), a Barsoomian princess, and may know of a way to send him back home.  However, both the Tharks and the princess want Carter to stay on Barsoom and fight for their side.  Carter wants none of this, having lost so much during the Civil War on his own world.
     Visually, John Carter is a stunning film, and much of the pleasure of the film is studying the creature design, the alien technology, and the costumes and sets.  John Carter has a sense of humor about itself, and the comedy stems from the cultural and language differences between Carter’s world and Barsoom.  The pacing is brisk—almost rushed—and there’s no shortage of action scenes.  Because Carter is used to Earth’s stronger gravity, he’s able to make astonishing leaps on Barsoom, and the film plays like a revved-up swashbuckler.
     While John Carter is fun and overall entertaining, it is overly-ambitious and confusing, and doesn’t work well as a narrative.  I never felt oriented on the alien world.  There’s this sense that the film must go! go! go! that it rushes in explaining who’s who and why we should care–I felt lost on more than one occasion.  What’s this strange place they go to?  Why are they going there?  What’s it for?  Who are these people and why are they attacking?–the two Barsoomian factions are distinguished with red and blue motifs, but the costumes and warships are otherwise too similar to differentiate between good guys and bad guys, and the Tharks have some in-fighting that confounds matters as well.
     Furthermore, John Carter has a hard time finding a consistent tone and sticking to it.  There’s a creature—aimed at the kiddies in the audience—that has a dog-like disposition that takes to Carter.  He has a silly, cartoonish look and way about him that doesn’t match the look and tone of the rest of the film.  On the other hand, the film falters when it takes itself too seriously.  There’s an intense battle scene that reveals the reason for Carter’s reluctance to fight that’s too somber for a tongue-in-cheek adventure like this, in which the dog darts through the battle like a Saturday morning cartoon—is this scene supposed to be funny or tragic?
     Still, John Carter has a fun concept, and Taylor Kitsch is fun to watch as Carter, a capable man of action, lost and trying to adapt to a new world.  The film has some decent eye-candy, and the pacing is too breathless to drag at any point.  Ultimately, John Carter is not a must-see, but it is worth a matinee viewing.
Note:  John Carter is offered in 3D, but it is not shot in that format, nor shot in a way that plays to 3D.

3/11/2012 Edit:  I caught a second viewing of John Carter in 2D, and the compositions are much better in the format it was intended for.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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