‘John Carter’ was a fun meal – but could have used more spice

Lynn Collins in 'John Carter'
Lynn Collins in ‘John Carter’

John Carter is good old family-friendly adventure, which unfortunately is probably just a little too fairy tale for the modern movie-going audience.

By now Disney’s CGI-heavy epic has proven itself to be a box office disappointment. It pulled in just $30 million on its opening weekend, and since has only eked out less than $15 million more domestically. It did slightly better overseas, but not enough to shed the label of being a failure.

I’m not going to argue that it was a great movie, but I think its unfortunate it got such bad buzz.

The story features Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a gold-seeker and burned out post-Civil War Confederate soldier, who finds himself zapped across space to Mars. There, embued with super-human abilities, he encounters four-armed, green-skinned aliens, falls for a beautiful princess (played by the stunning Lynn Collins) and gets caught up in a conflict between two humanoid clans.

Taylor Kitsch stars in 'John Carter'
Taylor Kitsch stars in ‘John Carter’

John Carter was a fun ride. A special effects extravaganza, with great spectacle that really showcased the best the big screen has to offer when it comes to life-like computer animation and character detail. The green-skinned Tharks are incredibly detailed and brought to life with fantastic exactness. The elaborate air ships are also beautiful, and move with grace through the Martian skies.

If Carter does suffer, it is from its shallow and overly elaborate scripting. The characters aren’t terribly developed, and the film effectively tell the story, which is actually quite convoluted. Their approach reminded me a little of Tron, in how that film tried to introduce the audience to the bizarre world inside the computer by starting the film there, instead of revealing it to the audience when the main character arrives there.

The reason I don’t think this kind of approach works very well is because the audience isn’t with the main character. They’re not sharing the experience, but instead looking at it all from a third-person perspective that disassociates them from the hero.

If the two aren’t in it together, it loses the emotional connection. And without that, you’ve got nothing.

As sci-fi epics go, John Carter is not unlike the 1980 version of Flash Gordon. There’s a lot of spectacle, elaborate visual efforts and out of this world characters, but also comes off as campy and goofy.

Ultimately, as sci-fi epics go, John Carter was a light weight. A good-hearted effort that was a fun popcorn adventure, but not something you’re going to think much about afterwards or recommend to your friends.

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