Andrew Stanton has been involved as a writer and / or director on some of Pixar’s best movies. Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and the Toy Story trilogy all have his name in the credits somewhere. So with such a spotless animated pedigree, I’m sure some people had high hopes for his first live action effort. High hopes Stanton craps all over for 132 minutes.
Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights is John Carter, an American Civil War veteran and difficult, unlikeable prick who we’re supposed to like, for some reason I’m yet to determine. He’s looking for gold in the Arizona desert and stumbles across some bald, monk-looking dudes (one played by Mark Strong) and ends up on Mars. On Mars, the different gravity means he can jump crazy high (worst superhero power ever?). He hooks up with some four armed green dudes. Elsewhere, on Mars, two groups of human looking people are fighting for some reason. One is lead by a hot broad who’s some variety of princess, the other is lead by Dominic West (McNulty from The Wire). Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights hooks up with the hot princess, the four armed green dudes help him fight the white dudes lead by Dominic West and everything happens exactly how you would expect, exactly when you would expect.
A pretty basic rule of film making is, show, don’t tell. The first few scenes of John Carter tell us that Carter is a decorated war her. They tell us he’s an honourable man. They tell us a misunderstood hero. But those same first few scenes show us that he’s trying to get out of paying a debt he owes to a local store owner even though he has a big ass chunk of gold in his pocket. They show us Carter putting a gun to the store owner’s head because the greedy bastard thought Carter should maybe pay his bill. They show him whip out his schmeckle and pee on the floor of a prison because he doesn’t agree with being imprisoned for putting a gun to an innocent man’s head.
The only thing that saves the John Carter sections of John Carter being the worst thing about this movie, is the pointless, excruciating, goofy framing device. The movie opens with an older John Carter dying and leaving his entire fortune to his nephew, who is… Wait for it… Edgar Rice Burroughs… The bloke who wrote the book this terrible move is based on over a hundred years ago. The inheritance also includes his dead uncle’s journal. And you’ll never guess what story the journal tells. It tells the story of John Carter, the movie we’re watching. Isn’t that so clever? The movie uses the book’s author as a character to give the whole thing an added level of… I don’t know?… Bull shit? The really confusing thing to me is, at some stage, when editing this movie, no one said, “It’s blown out to over two hours. Maybe we should drop the pointless, excruciating, goofy framing device. Get this mess down to a running time that gives people a little less of John Carter to hate.”
For a movie this expensive, the special effects are pretty dodgy too. Some of the green screens are more obvious than they have any right to be in this day and age. A scene involving some hover motorbike thingies that’s basically a rip of the hover motorbike thingies flying the through jungle in Return of the Jedi looks less convincing and more green screeny than Jedi did three decades ago. And the wire work when Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights uses the world’s most boring super power of jumping, is on par with Robin Williams in Hook. If you’re gonna give us a hacky story about characters we don’t care about, at least have the decency to distract us with some half decent effects.
Budget $250million / U.S Box Office $280million
Somehow not even nominated
Instead of John Carter, watch Mark Strong be awesome in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy