Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: John Carter

It is hard to go into a viewing of John Carter without some sort of predisposition towards the movie, which is noted as not only being a huge financial flop that almost singlehandedly put Disney in the red for the second quarter of 2012 thus putting an end to Rich Ross’ tenure at Disney Studios but also for being one of two theatrical disasters this summer starring Taylor Kitsch formerly of Friday Night Lights.  When you get past all the noise in regards to why the movie tanked – the weak theatrical marketing, the lack of consumer awareness, the head-scratching decision to remove “of Mars” from the original title (“John Carter of Mars”) because of the poor performance of “Mars Needs Moms,” what you realize is that the final product is incredibly mediocre.

The scope is grand and the source material full, but somewhere along the way from novel to script to motion picture the lush grandeur of the full-blown sci-fi epic is lost.  The story focuses on civil war veteran John Carter, who is mysteriously transported to Mars and joins the war that has gripped the barren planet.   From large-scale battles to alien mythology to a romantic love interest, all the elements are present for writer/director Andrew Stanton to orchestrate the kind of compelling narrative that plays to a large target audience. That the final product falls well short of this, I believe, is the product of three key problems.

The first problem is Taylor Kitsch.  The man has two followings – fans of Friday Night Lights and the Twilight crowd, but thus far he has failed to show he has the charisma and acting chops to carry a movie.  A surly demeanor and limited voice inflection can only take you so far on the silver screen and Kitsch has failed to show he has another gear to switch to.  In John Carter, it is his usual formula –  stern glares, deep monotone delivery, and the aforementioned surly demeanor.  It’s hard to care about the protagonist when he is neither interesting, nor likeable, nor charismatic, and that is a huge cinematic setback.

The second problem with the film is that the bar has been set very high for CG heavy sci-fi fantasy films set on other planets by Avatar, which represents a strong mix of creative storytelling, top notch CG, and solid acting.  Unfortunately John Carter pales in comparison across the board.  Mars is hardly a rich visual backdrop for a film and this is exasperated here because the best acting talent in this film (Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Bryan Cranston) is buried beneath bland and unimaginative computer generated characters.  As for the live action cast, the movie features C level actors (i.e. Mark Strong, Dominic West, James Purefoy) who are best known for being the fourth lead in every other mediocre action movie.

The third problem with the film is that the source material has served as the inspiration for so many other narratives that the film feels contrived, uninspired, and predictable.  Nothing feels riveting; there are no surprises; and thus the payoff is muted.  One might ask whether the film should be punished for not being groundbreaking?  The simple answer is no, but this film feels oddly like a B-level retread despite the fact that it came with a $250M price tag.

I wouldn’t suggest you go out of your way to see this movie or throw any money at it.  Put it on your Netflix queue or borrow it from a friend; maybe even catch in on cable in a few months.  It’s not going to wow you and you’ll probably at some point after watching it mistake it for some other movie, but it’ll help you pass the time if you’re bored.  If you’re interested in following the theatrical box off train wreck that is Taylor Kitsch, he next appears in the Savages opposite Blake Lively.

Standout Performance: Lynn Collins delivers her lines with conviction.


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