Completely Average in Every Way
Chris Kavan - wrote on 03/11/12
I was hoping that John Carter would break the trend of films about or featuring Mars that wouldn't disappoint. However, as much as I wanted to enjoy this big-budget epic adventure, and despite the effort put into it, everything about this movie screamed "generic sci-fi action" and it just couldn't reach above that mark.
Taylor Kitsch plays our titular hero - a Civil War hero/veteran-turned gold prospector after living through some very hard times (told in short flashbacks throughout the movie). He's searching for a spider cave - hidden somewhere in Apache territory that is filled with gold. After escaping an attempt at being recruited by the army (cameo from the excellent Bryan Cranston that goes by all too quick), he finds his cave only to also find a strange man with an even strangers glowing blue weapon who tries to kill him. After shooting him and taking hold of a strange amulet, he repeats the man's weird language and wakes up on another planet.
Soon, after learning how to walk/bound he comes across a race of four-armed, tusked aliens who nearly kill him, but wind up taking him back to their community. After being given some strange concoction to drink, he can understand the creatures (a good plan, as this is not the type of movie that subtitles would work for in the long run). Meanwhile, on another part of the planet we find brutal warlord Sab Than (a grim-looking Dominic West) being handed near unlimited power by group of strange men (led by Mark Strong - who shape shifts at will) and, having already pretty much drained the entire planet, is off to conquer the last remaining city through marriage to tattooed princess of Mars (a fetching Lynn Collins). She isn't so keen on marrying such a brute and makes her escape - an escape that ends at the same community where our John Carter is being held. Thus the real adventure begins.
The main problem is that even with the sweeping vistas and interesting aliens, nothing felt fresh about this film. It all had this "been there-done that" feeling. Plus all the emotion felt muted - I never got the feeling of romance between John Carter and the princess - so the end felt kind of hollow to me. Plus the aliens, despite being voiced by the likes of Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe and Thomas Haden Church - never really like actual characters. If Gollum and Avatar are the two benchmarks for CG characters, these fall woefully short in the acting department.
Even the special effects only get a passing grade. The excitement over seeing four-armed green aliens wears off after awhile, the flying contraptions look great - but, surprisingly, other than a cute dog/toad hybrid and the giant "white apes" (seen in a lot of the trailers) there aren't many other creatures to behold. Even the living city that lumbers around the planet can't save the day. I wanted to be blown away, but I was merely content.
Despite the fact this is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' series of stories, not even the overall idea behind it was all that interesting. Nor was the music or sound a saving grace here either. In fact, the whole movie was just plain vanilla sci-fi. It was neither terrible nor great - if you happen to like sci-fi, this is probably worth checking out. You'll be entertained, however, you won't find anything new or exciting write home about.