Wednesday, 4 July 2012

John Carter of Mars

Andrew Stanton’s John Carter of Mars caused a huge dent in Disney’s financial status and as a result the film’s failure was largely to blame. So poor was John Carter of Mars box office performance that Disney had to put the movie’s sequels on hold, but John Carter of Mars has performed better in the home media market as well as gaining a rather feisty fan base. 

The film is based on a 100 year old story by Edgar Rice Burroughs entitled John Carter of Mars which tells the tale of Civil War Veteran John Carter who, via some device thingamabob (Medallion), is transported to the planet Barsoom (aka Mars) where he finds that Mars is not a baronless wasteland, but a planet in which many vibrant societies are crumbling due to a bitter war. Anywho it is the two cities of Helium (no squeaky voices in this film, which is a shame as it would have livened proceedings considerably) and Zodanga that are engaged in a 1000 year long war (not sure why). John Carter finds himself right in the middle of this war after rescuing Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) for no other reason than because she is human. Due to Carter’s impressive jumping abilities and sheer strength (because of his bone density and Mars’ low gravity) he can be of instrumental use in bid to end the seemingly never ending war. Mixed in with this are back stories and forced marriages; it is all very confusing. 

The thing that was most brought to my attention concerning John Carter of Mars was the sheer lack of respect the studios show its paying audience. Under the studio’s insistence the marketing department for John Carter of Mars believed it to be a good idea to remove the words ‘of Mars’ from the title leaving the film to be called John Carter believing that the words ‘of Mars’ would give away the fact that John Carter of Mars is science fiction, thus decreasing box office figures. A number of issues with this, firstly Avatar (a Science fiction film) made more money than the GDP of the entire African continent. Secondly it is insulting to the audience’s intelligence that they would think people would not realize that John Carter of Mars is a Science fiction movie just because the words ‘of mars’ were removed from the title and thirdly it highlights the fact that as long as we pay for a ticket the studios do not give a monkeys about us. It makes me wonder why I should give the studios respect by funding their empire by paying for this film, but however paying for this film gives the filmmaker the respect he deserves (despite the fact the sounded a complete muppet on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s radio show) by paying for the finished product. This is exactly what I did (and I always do when I review a film) and because I am paying customer I have the right to criticize, yes?

 Hollywood blockbusters have often been labelled dumb fun; John Carter of Mars is certainly dumb but it is equally certainly isn’t fun for a colossal number of reasons. One issue is that John Carter of Mars is a typical, soulless and dire Hollywood affair but the most pressing issue is that these words can be used to describe Taylor Kitsch’s utterly one dimensional performance. Can the blame for the failure of his character (and as a result the film) be completely applied to him? No, that is unfair because the character is a detestable moron who believes that, despite being completely surrounded by hostiles on an alien planet, it is a good idea to fight his way to freedom. Clearly rather selfish, motivated only gold and a desire to get home, Carter gets himself in a war by inexplicably saving some princess. The character’s personality seems to change every so often for unexplainable reasons, however matters are not helped by the fact that Kitsch delivers his lines in a way that reminiscent of Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation. Furthermore Kitsch delivers his lines so slowly that it seems as though he is struggling to remember his next line.

Yet Taylor Kitsch’s emotionless performance is the tip of a very large iceberg, joining him in the movie’s collection of uninteresting characters and performances is Lynn Collins who shares such a low level of chemistry with her co-star that the two central characters might as well be on different planets. Their badly written love affair is horribly written, so much so that it is difficult to care what happens to pair of them. Thankfully there are some decent supporting performances by Ciarán Hinds (as Tardos Mors) and Dominic West (as Sab Than) who both do a great job in keeping a straight face when delivering the inane and silly dialogue they were given, on the other hand Mark Strong’s talents are wasted in a thankless role as a unthreatening villain with no interesting features. The dialogue is complete drivel (‘you are ugly, but you are beautiful’) and the film is completely lacking in humour of which was sorely needed. The visuals do look good, but with a budget of $250,000,000 that really is to be expected. Some good set and costume designs make the film nice to look at but John Carter of Mars is as empty as Mars’ huge landscapes.

John Carter of Mars is one of those films where a white American manages to have enough presence to command an entire indigenous population as well as the power to almost wipe out an entire army. John Carter of Mars is like a cross between Avatar, Clash of the Titans and Star Wars Attack of the Clones. The biggest issue is not the film is boring but the fact that the film lacks a likable hero and it is boring because of that.



  1. I agree with you that the marketing for this film was horrible. I feel that was the biggest reason for the box office failure.

    As you mentioned, it has gained an audience on DVD. I saw it because I had read the books a long time ago. I was surprised by the fact that I liked this film. I didn't have the problems with it that you described (other than maybe the acting, but I don't watch an action film for the acting anyway).

    1. I'm going to have to disagree with you on the last point, why shouldn't an action movie have good acting? People are not put off by good acting or a more complex script, take Inception for example it made a bucket load of cash, entertained many as well as those who also enjoy the more mindless summer blockbusters. For me an action movie is more compelling if the central performances are good.

    2. A clarification - I agree that action movies, or any genre for that matter, are better if they have good acting in them. I just don't expect good acting in action films. If I find it, then that is a pleasant bonus. If I don't find it, then I am still entertained by the action, unless it also is bad.

      I also don't watch romantic comedies for the acting; I watch them for the chemistry between the two leads. Like action movies, if I get good acting then that's great, but if I don't I still enjoy the chemistry, if it's good.

  2. Good review Myerla. Kitsch could have definitely been a little bit more charismatic but the flick still works due to amazing special effects and some really fun and exciting action. Not a bad film, just sucks that it totally bombed, to nobody's surprise.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, but for me to have fun in these types of films I need to like the central character, otherwise It'll be a bore.