By Clint Morris
There’s been a lengthy embargo placed on all reviews of Disney’s ”John Carter ”- and that includes reviews of a 140 character type. Of the few Twitter leaks (there’s always a couple that play the Charles Bronson of the Social Networks) that managed to escape a Disney scoring through, a very positive post (explains why Walt’s gang didn’t order the tweet deleted I guess) that sings the praises of the super-expensive and highly-ambitious movie (albeit one that’s tracking worse than a direct-to-video sequel to Kenny Roger’s “Six Pack”). The tweet screams “(John Carter is) this Generation’s Star Wars!”.
Big call. Big words. Big bold letters you will go dear quote above the film’s title on the press ads.
And you know what? It’s true. “John Carter” is indeed this generation’s “Star Wars” – though, “Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones”.
From the stilted dialogue, never-ending battle sequences, to the mechanical, robotic whirls of the space-ships to fly by (and look out for an arena-sequence that’ll have George Lucas adding his attorney to speed dial), “John Carter” has a lot in common with the weak, effects-first “Star Wars” prequels.
Of course, it’s probably quite likely that the Tweeter was referring to the grandiose “Star Wars” trilogy of 1977-1983.
And if so, he’s a tad off-base. There’s nothing or nobody as exciting in “John Carter” as there were in Lucas’s first three “Star Wars” films – one’s a crisp, clear LP, the other is a tinny quickly-pressed CD-R.
For those who haven’t read the film’s inspiration, Edgar Rice Burrough’s book “Princess of Mars”, “John Carter” chronicles the journey of Civil-War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, “Wolverine”, “Friday Night Lights”, “The Bang Bang Club”), who finds himself magically transported to a faraway planet where he gets embroiled in a war amidst a host of strange Martian inhabitants, including Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and stunning royal Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), with whom Carter grows increasingly besotted with.
In-between the battle sequences and political brouhaha, there’s some romance, some fun ‘bouncing around’, and a couple of well-choreographed action sequences that usually involve monstrous man-made architecture.
Okay, so “John Carter” isn’t half as wood-heavy on performances as the “Star Wars” prequels were, and it’s storyline is definitely more exciting than whatever the bloody trade confederate political nonsense Lucas’s films served up, but it’s in no way the film Disney intended on making. Well, unless, secretly the head of the company wanted to make his version of “Stargate”. Not such a bad thing if you enjoyed the 1996 Kurt Russell starrer – about a group of soldiers and scientists being transported to another planet – but I’m taking those who coughed up the cash for “John Carter”, which encompassed one of the biggest film budgets of all time, had hoped for something a little less ‘knock off’.
Though always a tough undertaking, director Andrew Stanton’s “John Carter” lacks the ‘care factor’ of the more fruitful space-set blockbusters. In “Aliens”, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, the special effects and the creature make-up come second to well-written characters that you can get truly invested in. When the only thing you care about in “John Carter” is a cute monster-dog that follows the hero around, well, you know something’s gone awry.
The script is heavy on exposition, big on battle sequences and – much like iGasm “Avatar” – only occasionally slows down to cross-pollinate a couple of species.
Edgar Rice Burrough’s original novel was full of memorable, touching moments between characters his words had you rooting for. Not so much here. And quite frankly, that’s surprising, considering director Stanton’s seamless ability to make us laugh, cry and cheer on the characters in his CGI classic, “Finding Nemo”. Maybe cartoons have script approval?
What’s on screen is impressive-looking (but $200m!?), the world of Mars (sans the overused bloody red rock formation that’s been seen in everything from “Star Trek ” to “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” to “Buffy”! Way to take a guy out of a movie, Stanton! May as well as filmed the Virginia scenes on Universal’s Town Square set!) looks nifty – but nothing “Pitch Black” didn’t accomplish for a fifth of the price (simply by shooting in the Aussie desert), the space-battles and architecture look superb through the 3d glasses, and the film has that atypical vibrant Disney colour palette.
But is that enough to warrant the film’s price-tag and in turn, put bums on seats? I doubt it.
On the other hand, the film does reassure Hollywood that the giant punt they’ve taken on TV star Taylor Kitsch (late of TV’s “Friday night lights”) is going to pay-off. He’s got a long way to go before he’s winning Oscars (though he does have a part in an upcoming Oliver Stone film so, you never know), but the young actor has enough charm, good looks and screen presence to deter Disney (and Universal, who have cast him in the equally expensive 2012 blockbuster “Battleship”) from second-guessing their risky move of casting a relative unknown in the pricey film’s lead. The film was going to play like “Stargate 2 : Get Your Ass to Mars” regardless of who was playing the hero.