Just when you thought you'd seen all the Star Wars prequels you found poorly written, clunky and devoid of captivating characters comes John Carter, a Disney-fied space epic that is poorly written, clunky and devoid of captivating characters. Its one saving grace: it makes you appreciate George Lucas's [forgotten] skill when it comes to directing explosive action, something that is so sorely lacking in John Carter.
Oh, there is action. Plenty of it. The title character is often neck deep in alien dung before he's even escaped his previous precarious situation. The problem is: it isn't good action. It isn't exciting.
John Carter isn't exciting because John Carter is invincible. He isn't actually invincible - his only "special powers" are that his low-density Earth bones allow him to defy gravity and jump thousands of feet in the air - but you wouldn't know it because Oscar-winning director Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo) never permits his hero to feel any real sense of dread or danger. For a roughneck turn-of-the-century cowboy, he is shockingly confident about his odds given that he's been transplanted to another world and imprisoned by four-armed aliens.
It doesn't help that John Carter is painted with flat, shoddily written characters played by grating actors. Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter with as much enthusiasm as Channing Tatum did that time he dressed up as cardboard for Halloween. In all fairness, he does grow on you over time, just because the cheesy villain (Dominic West) is just so damned evil. More problematic is love interest Dejah, played by Lynn Collins (who co-starred with Kitsch in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who is as poorly cast as Gemma Arterton was in another Disney misfire, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Kitsch and Collins have no chemistry whatsoever and Collins looks especially lost in what appears to be a pretty simple character.
Then again, she may have just given up once she realized what she had gotten into.
John Carter isn't a complete disaster. It fluctuates between entertaining and boring, slightly stimulating and silly to the point of stupid, often in the same scene. The movie is at times funny, especially when it allows itself to be goofy. There are times when John Carter feels like a fully fleshed Disney movie, fun, fantastic and firing on all cylinders. In that regard, it's several rungs above bad.
But from the director of such consistently entertaining and visually enthralling films as Wall-E and Finding Nemo, John Carter is also several rungs below good. It takes itself too seriously, aspiring to be a legitimate sci-fi action epic when its story is just too ridiculous and dumb to support such a notion. It's best when it's goofy, but it isn't goofy very often. Had Stanton tried to infuse the same high-brow humor he has with his animated efforts, John Carter might have been a fun ride.
John Carter has its moments and those looking for pure mindless fun could watch much worse, but the movie won't be the beginning of the franchise Disney hopes to create. It's colorful, fast-paced and lighthearted, but it bears way too many similarities to Star Wars - but without the superb action, enthralling score and sense of purpose.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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