Grae Drake
John Carter Review

Grae's Rating:


Mars: The confusing planet.

John Carter does more things right than it does wrong. If you remember how much you loved those blue hippies plugging their dreadlocks into dragons and flying around, or how the guy who can leap tall buildings in a single bound is your hero, or how the Pod Race in Episode 1 is the most memorable part, then you should be writing Edgar Rice Burroughs a thank you note. He wrote the Barsoom novels 100 years ago that feature John Carter, the Civil War veteran who bows to no man and gets teleported to Mars. The series' first film adaptation succeeds in giving you lots of pretty things to look at in both the film's cast and its actual landscape, some good chuckles, and heaps of phenomenal action. It fails, however, in being simple enough to follow without taking notes. I feel like I need a Masters Degree to even explain it to you.

I'll give it a shot. When John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) gets transported to Mars (aka Barsoom), he ends up right in the middle of another civil war. The Zodangans love war and are messing with the people of Helium, who only want to paint themselves in henna and wear bad hairpieces. Their princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is a ridiculously hot scientist who is being forced to marry Zodangan bully Sab Than (Dominic West) to calm him down. Little does she know that he is just a puppet of the evil Know-It-All buttinsky Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who is just using Sab Than to do his bidding. Luckily John Carter lands in the middle of a group of feisty Luddite natives called Tharks that like to go postal on everyone else's flying machines, and he helps inspire them to more focused violence, like all great heroes do.

John himself is not one to overtalk, which I read as being the strong silent type (although admittedly I get distracted by his shirtlessness). It seems like there's something intense going on behind his dark eyes, and it's nice to see them light up when the talented and mesmerizing Dejah shows up. No useless love interest here--she's always doing something interesting, like overthrowing her future husband's kingdom, flying an airplane, or deciphering codes. She uses both her noggin and her sexy chain mail to soak up the theater's undivided attention. Willem Dafoe stars as Tars Tarkas, a motion-capture animated Thark who rules with a secretly benevolent fist, and his subjects include Thomas Hayden Church and Samantha Morton, who make for a very interesting and volatile Martian population.

The landscape of Mars, although similar to Arizona where the film was shot, is pumped so full of mystical glowy wonder that it never gets boring to look at. You can tell that everyone involved in making it was infinitely familiar with Dune and Krull. Inevitably, it's also filled with battles on air and land, as well as scary white apes that make a bull in a china shop look gentle and respectful. So forking over money for 3D is justified too, there only remains the slight problem that the movie is lacking a certain something. Is it the fact that I had to see it twice just to understand the plot? Or perhaps that it's been ripped off so many times by movies that have already imprinted on our imaginations that we can't shake our déjà vu? If you can distill the plot down to that of The Graduate minus the mom but plus aliens with tusks, a world-crushing Nintendo power glove, and an awesome dog, you will make it through without a migraine. Otherwise, bring your Excedrin.


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