Main cast: Taylor Kitsch (John Carter), Lynn Collins (Dejah Thoris), Samantha Morton (Sola), Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas) Thomas Haden Church (Tal Hajus), Mark Strong (Matai Shang), Ciarán Hinds (Tardos Mors), Dominic West (Sab Than), James Purefoy (Kantos Kan), and Bryan Cranston (Colonel Powell)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Wait, there are demands for movie adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s stories? I guess there has to be, which would explain this bewildering adaptation of that man’s A Princess of Mars. John Carter is based on a story that came out in 1917, however, and it doesn’t do much to deviate from the pulp fiction feel. The result is something that seems very outdated by the standards of today.
John Carter was a former Confederate Army captain in the American Civil War, until he became fed up with killing people and decided to look for gold while getting drunk and brawling indiscriminately. Even when he is supposed to be drunk and unwashed, however, his hair still looks shiny, as real men always make time for their appointment with the hair conditioner. His superiors were like, hell no, John Carter was good in everything so they’d like to haul his rear end back in. John fights them all the way, however, and then the Indians decide to get involved, and our hero eventually finds his way to Mars after accidentally activating a medallion (don’t ask). It is as if destiny conspired to remove him from Earth before everyone on that planet becomes thoroughly sick of him.
We call it Mars, the natives call it Barsoom. Barsoom isn’t red, it’s very brown, but all that desert comes with a nice atmosphere that allows John to breathe. Gravity and bone density allow John to do high and far jumps like a rabbit on steroids, however, so he now has super powers. Wheee! He punches and brawls his way to become the boss of the aliens, snog the runaway princess Dejah Thoris because every real man needs a feminine receptacle to breed strong sons on, kills the bad guys, and so on. This is standard sci-fi dumb jock zero to hero stuff, in other words.
It’s impressive that John manages to achieve all this without displaying any convincing signs of intelligence. Mind you, even after meeting and brawling with actual aliens, it would require Dejah to spell it out to him that he is on another planet before the light bulb switches on in his head. Throughout the whole story, he never thinks before he acts, and he’s too manly to practice non-macho habits like subtlety, cunning, and discretion. His allies get into countless trouble – some fatal for them – because of this, but hey, he’s the hero so he gets to be happy, I guess.
Dejah pretends to be tough because we don’t want to offend the feminists in the audience. Don’t worry, she still needs our hero to extricate her from sticky situations, the better for him to flex those muscles and remind everyone that he is more manly than Johnny Bravo. There is romance too. He’s practically pawing her seconds after their initial meeting, and their relationship has all the passionate grace of a drunken hook-up.
And yet, for all the machismo required for the role of John Carter, these people put pretty boy Taylor Kitsch in the role and make him wear a loincloth thing that covers more than it shows. The script has John Carter being an idiot, a whiny one at that, so the least this film could do to salvage that character is to put someone with nice thighs in that role, ugh. James Purefoy is in this movie in a small role, and he has a nice rear end (and front too), if Rome is anything to go by, so he could’ve been a nicer lead, at least on the eyes. What a wasted opportunity, sigh.
This movie has everything it needs to be an uninspiring movie that feels more at home in schlock theater, but even then, it lacks the campy fun factor to qualify as good schlock. There is really no reason why John Carter should be made, in this form, in this day and age. We have come a long way from the schlock fest of the 1960s, and any excuse to revisit that era should be audacious, fun, and thrilling – everything this movie is not.