Poor, Mr. Carter. . . Just about everyone seems to hate him. On Earth, Indians give chase, the early-American law wants him jailed, the drunkards want him beaten to a pulp and even his dead wife won't get off his back. So what's a guy to do? Well, if he happens upon a bald guy in the middle of a cave--take his shiny amulet and warp the hell outta there! And in turn, become hunted and hated on a new planet! What a deal!
Based upon the novel "A PRINCESS OF MARS" by Edgar Rice Burrows, JOHN CARTER follows the reluctant heroism of a man named (wait for it!) John Carter, who discovers himself transported to a distant red planet after activating a shiny azure amulet. Once adjusted to the change in gravity, the newfound power at his disposal and the four-armed aliens now hunting him, John comes to realize he ain't in Kansas anymore (or is that Virginia?) Now, with a horde of monstrous creations behind him, a warring nation in front of him and an all-seeing, all-knowing race trying to track his every move, Carter must become a savior. . . Even if he really doesn't want to.
I gotta say, I was actually surprised with this one. While I was right to raise my brow at the casting choice in ol' Mr. Carter, Disney nonetheless managed to deliver an entertaining foray into science-fiction devoid of the typical childish and immature markings of such a studio empire. That's not to say it's not flawed, just nowhere near the travesty it could have been.
Unlike a recent film I attended which shall go unnamed. . . Ah, what the hell, THE LORAX (it was terrible), one of the key aspects of John Carter that stuck out like a blood-coated sword through the back of a White-Ape was the voice acting. Whenever I come upon an animated film, I prefer to enter the experience completely naïve as to the actors involved. I enjoy trying to decipher the flesh behind the pixels without the bias of celebrity status. Here, I contained no foreknowledge of the actors involved with ADR and am all the happier for it. Willem Dafoe is exceptional as the four-armed leader Tars Tarkas and even Thomas Hayden Church is rock solid as his malicious brother-in-arms, Tal Hajus. Such voices commanded attention and offered all the more personality to the computer-animated creatures they supported. When watching, I came to a point in which I forgot about the aliens merely being catalysts for voice-actors, but observed them as actual living, breathing characters. Not only was this due to the verbal excellence, but the generated effects as well. The movements, skin texture, muscle contortion--fantastic. Outside of the disposable 3D conversion, the visual and audible aspects were married in a chapel of proper cohesion.
Where JOHN CARTER falters, however, is in narrative stereotypes and a rather annoying lead. The film holds to clichés as if they're going out of style, resulting in a storyline which is as predictable as it is eye-rollingly melodramatic and cheesy. Taylor Kitsch's's portrayal of John Carter is also an obnoxious cross of FUTURAMA's Zapp Brannigan (but played seriously) with that of an interplanetary Clint Eastwood. Nearly every line of his dialogue is delivered in a forcefully "I-play-by-no-one's-rules-but-my-own" kind of way, and his face rarely contorts into anything other than a frustrated, "who farted" expression. Really, I felt the most human of characters to be that of the inhuman kind.
Moreover, the entire experience feels a bit forgettable once the curtains have been drawn over the silver screen. While it is entertaining at points, a majority of its set-pieces feel too familiar and lacking in ingenuity. Along with this, certain emotional sequences seem to lack, well, emotion. Since Taylor Kitsch isn't able to display proper sadness (c'mon, bud, tear-up or something!) rendering certain portions of catharsis nearly useless. The storyline might call for stronger drama--especially given its flashbacks and a cool, but empty (and oddly placed) scene of one man dueling dozens of beasts, but John Carter is apparently unable to bend his emotions from forced an un-entitled sense of bad-assery--at all. So, if he doesn't seem to care, why should we?
In the recent decade, Disney's track record has been incredibly lacking in anything that would be deemed "a classic". In fact, without the defense of Pixar's brilliance, Disney might have fallen to the wolves long ago. With JOHN CARTER, the studio seems to be recalling directorial and visual stylings of yore in order to make a film which might actually appeal more to adults and teens than children. As far as science fiction goes, JOHN CARTER--unlike its printed predecessor--will not stand the test of time, but for a simple, slightly forgettable two hours of blue-plasma spilling, alien-beheading, high-jumping chaos, it gets the job done.