I don’t watch previews anymore, but apparently a good chunk of the buzz on this movie is about the disappointing marketing. I haven’t seen the trailer, but the garish red and yellow posters are unattractive, and the title–“John Carter”–is certainly much blander than the title of the book on which it’s based: A Princess of Mars.
I’m hoping to convince you not to be scared off by bad advertising! John Carter is creative, fun, well-made, and certainly worth your attendance. A big selling point (that I understand was not used) is that the director is Andrew Stanton, who directed Wall-E and Finding Nemo. They’re both stellar movies, and the switch from animation to live-action shouldn’t concern anyone–the director obviously knows how to engage an audience.
The cast is led by an acceptable Taylor Kitsch. He’s decent as John Carter, a Civil War veteran who is tired of fighting, finds himself on Mars against his will, and just wants to go home to look for gold. Hoping to change his mind is a great cast of actors, both live and in motion-capture form. Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds are two of my favorite character actors, playing Martian locals, Thomas Haden Church and Willem Dafoe provide great voice work for CGI aliens, and Lynn Collins as the heroine Dejah (the titular Princess from the book title) is a revelation. She’s fantastic and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen her before. Turns out I had seen her in few odds and ends, but this is by far her biggest role to date and she makes the most of it.
The art direction SHOULD win an Oscar next year. (I say “should” because the Academy inevitably gets more wrong than right.) The look of the movie, the design of the ships and cities and weapons, is wholly unique. I was constantly impressed and wanted to watch segments in slow motion, just to soak it all in and analyze/appreciate it. The overall story is a bit cliche, which isn’t entirely fair since it’s 100 years old and it’s only because so many other stories have been inspired by this that it seems familiar to me. Luckily, there are also enough characters and details that it still offered something new. I’ve heard some people say it’s too convoluted. I disagree with that, although I do think that a few pieces don’t fit well with each other.
Which leads to my main complaint. Perhaps it’s all adapted from the book, but there are definitely scenes that don’t make logical sense. These mysterious priest characters seem to be manipulating the mortals to do their bidding, but they don’t really seem affected by the outcome. So why are they going through all the trouble to steer it in certain directions? Similarly, for having such power, they sure make things difficult for themselves by only using said power in select situations instead of all the time. This happens often, with various characters taking (or not taking) actions that are seemingly not the best course of action for their stated goals.
One thing that others might quibble with, but shouldn’t, is the technology. In this movie, the Martian air is breathable, solar ships can fly at night, there are rivers on Mars, etc. This movie is not scientifically accurate, but it’s absolutely not trying to be. It’s just a good old-fashioned adventure movie that didn’t want to be behold to the trappings of reality. I say Bravo. Reality is great on occasion, but in a sci-fi action movie, a little unreality is pretty welcome too.
I want this movie to do well, despite all signs pointing toward a financial failure. Not even just for a sequel, but for all movies of this type. Big, grand, creative, epic movies that take me places I haven’t even imagined and introduce me to characters I’d love to hang out with (mostly Dejah and the alien dog Woola) are exactly what I like to see. I’m afraid if this movie fails, Hollywood is going to tighten up and go back to more generic action movies like Safe House. Go see this!