John Carter (2012)

Director:  Andrew Stanton
Cast:  Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, & Thomas Haden Church
Plot:  Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Fantasy
Awards:  -
Runtime:  132min
Rating:  PG13 for intense sequences of violence and action.

Dear John, what happened?  You were on Earth, but suddenly found yourself on Mars, among tall, green-skinned creatures with four arms that called you a woman's name.  It seemed like you enjoyed yourself.  

After all, what was there not to like about being able to leap from place to place, and to fall in love with a woman as scantily clad as Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi (1983).  You got to fight against hordes of creatures charging at you, and to repel two enormous white apes while chained to a rock.  Not to mention you had a pet dog that looked like Jabba the Hutt when he was younger and fitter.

John Carter, the new Disney film, is a money-cashing attempt to bring families with kids in tow to the theaters to enjoy a 3D experience, only that the experience is not quite enjoyable.  Very much an origin story of the fictional hero John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), the film is an action fantasy that tries too hard to offer a big-scale, epic adventure, but ends up taking it too far in terms of offering spectacle at the expense of cinema's most fundamental requisite - telling a clear, involving story. 

Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' story 'A Princess of Mars', John Carter is an amalgam of stylistic cinematic clich├ęs from Star Wars (1977) to Gladiator (2000) to Avatar (2009).  Unlike Pixar colleague Brad Bird, who helmed Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol  (2011) after successes with The Incredibles (2004), and Ratatouille (2007), Andrew Stanton's first live-action feature is far from satisfying, despite having directed Oscar-winning animated films Finding Nemo (2003), and Wall-E (2008). 

The biggest flaws of John Carter are its screenplay and editing, which lack clarity in the way events in the film are shown.  Viewers are not afforded time to make sense of what is happening on screen, let alone feel for the characters.  Viewers won't mind a longer film if the plot and characters are more deeply fleshed out.  Unfortunately, John Carter is both long and uninvolving.

It is good to note that Burroughs' story was written in the early 1910s, and is now considered a classic example of early 20th century pulp fiction.  Thus, it is amazing that someone from a century ago had already thought of such worlds.  Although Burroughs' vision is translated well visually with good (but not great) use of CG landscapes and effects, Stanton's film leaves a lot to be desired in terms of storytelling and character development. 

The end result is an overblown special effects extravaganza that is both sketchy and irrelevant.  John Carter will entertain some, but seasoned moviegoers will know that they have seen enough of these films to give it a miss.

Verdict: Star Wars, Avatar, and Gladiator rolled into one, but too bad the screenplay lacks clarity, causing the entire film to be quite irrelevant.

GRADE: C- (5.5/10 or 2.5 stars)

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