The biggest movie flop of 2012 was Disney’s John Carter, which lost buckets of money and was mocked in the press as a gigantic, Heaven’s Gate-style fiasco. The media had a blast trashing this movie, and that’s too bad, because while John Carter isn’t the greatest (or even goodest) thing in the world, it had a lot of charm to it, and some individual parts that worked really well.
The movie is based on the John Carter of Mars series from Edgar Rice Burroughs. In a classic case of dopey corporatization, the title of the film was changed to John Carter, which might be the vaguest name for a film ever conceived. What could a film named John Carter possibly be about? An accountant? A dashing insurance salesman? It’s bland and stupid and awful. In fact, the marketing for this film was a consistent series of screw-ups. John Carter is a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure; Contrast that with the first teaser trailer that was shown in theaters:
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This gloomy mess completely misrepresented the film. There are moments of fun and laughter and excitement in John Carter, none of which is present in that damn teaser. What a disaster.
Also, while I love Friday Night Lights, Taylor Kitsch is kinda crappy in this movie. He’s almost like that teaser: WAY too broody for the content of the film itself. I get that Carter is supposed to have a lot of pain due to the loss of family (which is explained way too late in the film), but Kitsch’s dour buzzkill of a performance brings several moments down.
Still, there’s a lot I like about John Carter. The action is fun and refreshingly clear and easy-to-follow, and the moments of levity are genuinely funny. Carter also has a CGI sidekick that’s pretty funny; I’m baffled as to how Disney couldn’t figure out how to sell toys based off that one creature alone. Another revelation in the film is Lynn Collins, who plays a Martian princess. Lynn Collins is hot. SO hot. She’s also the most fun character in the film, and captures the perfect tone for the movie. Oh Lynn Collins, you’re TREMENDOUS!
The story has tons of dropped subplots and bizarre structure…As I recall, the film has two or three different opening scenes that could each serve as the opening of the movie. It’s very odd. The script of John Carter is probably it’s worst enemy. There’s a scene where Carter kills a bunch of bad guys while flashing back to how his family died. As a standalone sequence, it’s awesomely put together and moving and triumphant and all that jazz. Unfortunately, what’s supposed to be moving and exciting just feels off, a victim of the wonky structure that occurred before it.
This was the first live-action film directed by Andrew Stanton whose Pixar credits include Finding Nemo and Wall-E, and John Carter is at its best when it’s telling the story visually. Any time dialogue or exposition is required, the film grinds to a halt. If you get a chance and have the ability to lower your expectations, check out John Carter. You may not be glad you did, but you won’t be all that mad either.