John Carter of Mars (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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John Carter of Mars (2012)

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Every so often, a story comes along, be it a book or a poem or a film, that changes our lives; that inspires us, motivates us, sparks our imaginations. Entire legions of fans sprout up and turn their creative energies towards glorifying and expanding upon that story. But the movie John Carter (formally of Mars) isn't that film. Rather, it's a film adaptation of a story that inspired so many others.

The story is one that you've heard a few dozen times or more already: A disillusioned Civil War veteran, who wants nothing in life but to find a cave filled with gold and spend the rest of his days in solitude, is teleported to Mars somehow. Granted super-human strength and agility from the difference in gravity, John discovers a land ravaged by warring factions and shadowy conspiracies. While searching for a way back to Earth, he slowly learns to let go of his past and finds a reason to fight for the Martian people.

So, yeah, it's the story of Superman/Conan who allied the humans and the orcs to fight the Illuminati. Also, he dresses like He-Man and fights dudes with chains like a certain God of War, for some reason (and I'm pretty sure that reason is "It looks cool"). What I'm trying to drive home here isn't that John Carter is a derivative amalgamation of every sci-fi/fantasy story of the past, oh, 100 years. Rather, it's like the genesis of those stories.

Countless films and books and video games have borrowed from Burrows' Barsoom novels,  so it's interesting to see the originator of those other stories, the genesis, if you will, similarly borrow from the stories it inspired. It's an interesting idea to wrap your head around. The arena battle is reminiscent of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the idea of teleporting to Mars is like the avatars of, uh, Avatar. But those are films which themselves were inspired by Burrows' fiction, so is John Carter borrowing from Star Wars or is Star Wars  still borrowing from Carter? Or did I just blow your mind?!

Maybe I should focus more on the film itself, rather than what it might have borrowed from/inspired. I thought Taylor Kitsch did as great job as John. I could believe him as a troubled hero, caught in a conflict between wanting to be left alone and doing what he felt was the right thing. Then again, I'll also defend the casting of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.

I also really enjoyed Lynn Collins as the love-interest Dejah, mostly because there was an attempt to make her more than just another "girl in peril." She could hold her own in a sword fight, for one thing, and although she is forced into marriage with the evil Sab Than (Dominic West), it's out of desperation and drive to save the people of Mars rather than at the point of a blade. Well, kind of. It was nice that they also made her a scientist in addition to being a princess. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call her a positive role-model for women in film, but I could tell an attempt was being made.

William Dafoe apparently played Tars Tarkas, leader of the Tharks (aka: Orcs). I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that he only did the voice work, maybe some of the mo-cap for Tars, unless Mr. DeFoe sprouted a couple extra arms when I wasn't looking. Even if he was unrecognizable, I'd say he did a good job as Tars was easily the most interesting character in the film.

Oh, and don't let me forget to mention Mark Strong as the evil puppet-master Matai Shang. Yeah, I think I've seen Mark Strong in four films (and one video game, of all things) in the past 2 years and I've learned the following things about him:

1) He has a great on-screen presence.
2) He has a strong, commanding voice.
3) He's really good at standing in the shadows and acting ominous.

It's hard for me to say that he's "good" in this film so much as he's "acting like Mark Strong." At any rate, his character in this was far more interesting than Sinestro in Green Lantern.

Speaking of Green Lantern: As Danny pointed out to me upon leaving the theater, John Carter's moral lessons are a little on the nose. Carter, while brooding and reluctant at first, is pure good. Matai Shang and his white, robed cronies are pure evil. The closest thing we get to a morally grey character is Tars Tarkas, but he's shown to be a product of his environment and he comes over to the "good guys" side without hesitation.

As I recall, he likened it to Green Lantern, which I can see. Like Lantern, I think there was some dispute as to who the intended audience of Carter was. On one hand, the aforementioned "obvious" moral conflicts make it seem like it was directed at a younger audience. On the other hand, John Carter kills about a billion Martians and there's at least one on-screen decapitation. The only response I can provide is that I felt Carter had much better writing, plot, and pacing than Lantern, and I think ultimately that's why I enjoyed John Carter and felt that it "worked" as a film, despite it's uncertain demographic.

Is this the sci-fi films to end all sci-fi films? Not exactly, no. I don't think we're going to see the explosion of fan-related spin-offs that the likes of Star Trek or Star Wars have produced. I don't think we'll be seeing the John Carter prequels in twenty years (I can only hope). But at the end of the day, John Carter is yet another retelling of the hero's journey that is pretty damn enjoyable. All that said, I would pay money to see a Tars Tarkas spin-off.

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Posted by Jacob

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review Jacob. 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. Sad thing is that this flick was made for $250 million and didn’t make any of it back.

  2. Yeah in my opinion this was only slightly worse than hunger games (which I would really love if you guys reviewed.) Hunger games won out because it had more fans.

    Oooo Oooo can I do a guest review for hunger games?

  3. GASP you did do hunger games!

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