Disney has had a great run for the last two summers, with two very mediocre films that printed a ton of money. 2010 bought Tim Burton's anemic Alice in Wonderland and 2011 bought the latest entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Both films grossed over $2 billion at the box office. Unfortunately for the company, John Carter won't be breaking any records. It also is going to struggle to make its production and advertising costs back, which total a massive $350 million. There are however some very good reasons for this.
John Carter opens to a bizarre war between some ships that look like a scene cut from Avatar except rendered on a barren planet. This is the first faux pas. The audience has no idea what it is seeing. There is no context or explanation leaving the audience to wonder if they have missed the first few minutes of the film. The action isn't even staged dynamically, almost directed liked a documentary.
When we jump into the backstory after a few minutes, it's revealed that John Carter is a former cavalry officer of the confederate army. In the best sequence of the film, Carter proves himself to be a formidable enemy of the state, but also of the Apache Indians. After an escape from both, Carter finds a cave of gold, but when a stranger materializes next to him, he is mysteriously transported to the planet Barsoom (which we know to be Mars). On Barsoom, Carter is significantly stronger and dangerous than the inhabitants. Quickly he is thrust into the war which ravages their planet.
Straight up, John Carter is a disaster. Disney knew they had a turkey on their hands following bad exit polling and a disastrous marketing campaign which struggled to sell the film. It's particularly poor if you can't get me interested in a film by its trailer (I'm somewhat of a whore in this regard), but John Carter managed to completely lose me. I should have followed my gut instincts.
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John Carter is adapted from the book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and this film marks the centenary of his introduction in 2012. 100 years ago, we knew nothing of what lay on the surface of Mars, making readers far more intrigued about the possibilities of the not-so distant planet. Unfortunately, now we are a little more scientifically enabled, which makes the suspension of disbelief just a little harder.
The eponymous John Carter is played by relative newcomer Taylor Kitsch, best known for his role on the Friday Night Lights television series. He's got a bit of charm and charisma, and his career will likely recover from this mess.
His love interest Deja Thoris, played by Lynn Collins does a relatively good job of the role she is given, but looks too old for the role. She is clearly a beautiful actress, but she's been made up to look tired and just a little haggard at times.
Director Andrew Stanton, whom may be familiar as the alumni of Pixar, where he served as writer of all three Toy Story films, Wall-E and A Bugs Life, and director of my favourite Pixar film Wall-E and ironically my least favourite - Finding Nemo. Despite his obvious talents, and even taking into account the massive amount of computer graphics and CG characters, I feel that Stanton is out of his depth in the live action arena, especially in being able to coax good performances out of his cast. A far cry from the dynamic and exciting set pieces which frequently inhabit the Pixar stable of films, John Carter feels strangely tired and old-fashioned, a clash of styles with no pay off.