John Carter | movie review
Is there life on Mars? Yes, actually. Quite a lot, in fact. Except they call it Barsoom...
Movie summary: Transported to Barsoom, a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Woola and a princess in desperate need of a saviour. (IMDb)
Can I just shock you? I like John Carter. Alan Partridge reference aside, that's still a true sentence for me and I really would encourage people to watch it despite the rather bland title - you can see from the picture above that this movie has a bit more to it other than a generic guy's name! Hell, it would've been so much better if they had gone with the name the movie receives when the story is over: John Carter of Mars.
Yep, this movie is set on an entirely different planet, even if it's not the Mars we all know from countless other works of science-fiction or.. well, the lifeless(?) planet of our reality. Instead, it's called Barsoom (John Carter of Barsoom wouldn't have worked at all) and is inhabited by a variety of different life-forms and multiple societies, with Zodanga providing the source of antagonism as a war-mongering people.
The thing that I find most appealing about John Carter is the excellence of the world-building. This is a pretty grand tale covering huge distances, multiple societies and a pretty large supporting cast for a single movie, yet it doesn't feel over-stuffed in the slightest. Sure, not everyone gets as much screen-time as they deserve, but those characters important to the story certainly do.
I can't remember if this was supposed to launch a series of movies - there a a lot of John Carter books after all - and some of the characters were being saved for future films, but this is a pretty complete story with a satisfying conclusion that certainly serves as a standalone piece. I would've really liked to see a sequel, but that's never going to happen now, at least not without rebooting the franchise and starting anew.
As I recall, the biggest problem John Carter had on release was marketing which made the movie look and sound as bland as the title, which does the story a disservice. With the books, Carter was a proto-Superman after all, what with being an alien to the world he finds himself on, blessed with super strength and being able to leap vast distances in a single bound.
Unfortunately, Taylor Kitsch isn't the best actor play such an influential character, especially not in a story with world-spanning scope (technically two worlds) and covering multiple societies, their relationships with each other and the various representatives of the those factions, most of whom are played by superior actors casually outperforming Kitsch no matter how hard he tries.
It doesn't help that he's paired up with Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, who is the highlight of the movie for me. If John Carter is the proto-Superman, then Collins' version of Dejah is the proto-Wonder Woman: highly intelligent; a fearless, ferocious warrior; compassionate; and desirable as all hell. I don't think Gal Gadot had been cast as Wonder Woman when John Carter was released, but I definitely remember a brief campaign for Collins to get the role and it's as easy as anything to see why people would want that based on this performance.
I'm not going to go through the entire supporting cast, because it's just astonishing how John Carter has some incredible names giving great performances in some minor roles, but they really do help to sell the world(s) the main character inhabits. Kitsch is rarely on his own in any scene, so most of his weaknesses are covered by those around him lifting the material up instead.
Ultimately though, it is Kitsch that does leave John Carter feeling somewhat... underwhelming maybe? That's not quite the right word as I still really enjoy the movie - it's more a case of feeling that this could've been a truly great movie with the right actor in the lead role. Who that might've been at that time is something I don't know, but even liking this movie as much as I do, there will always remain the nagging thought that it could've been much, much better.
John Carter is definitely a lot better than its disastrous reputation would be said, even if it's still not a great movie by any means. It's an enjoyable story with a grand scale, some excellent world-building and a fantastic score, so most people should be able to enjoy it on some level. Taylor Kitsch isn't the greatest lead in the world, but the rest of the cast do a more than good enough job to make up for any faults in his performance.