John Carter, originally titled John Carter of Mars, based on a book originally titled A Princess of Mars, is the first in what Disney hopes to be a new big franchise perhaps on a Pirates of the Caribbean level or something like that. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War veteran who magically transplants to Mars to discover a race of creatures called the Tharks at war with various other human-based provinces such as Helium. He also discovers that due to his Earth biology he can interact with the gravity on Mars, giving him an impressive jumping ability and strength. He falls in love with Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins) and must fight against their oppressors in order to save the planet from some God-like order called the Therns that have great power and seem to have decided the way things should go well before John Carter came around.
John Carter marks Andrew Stanton’s live-action debut, Stanton previously directed some of the most important Pixar films like Finding Nemo and WALL-E. It’s a shame he didn’t bring some of his writing staff over to this film too. At 132 minutes John Carter is bloated and lacking a real voice to make it stand out amongst the never-ending series of action hero origins stories that we seem to be getting a lot. For every step that John Carter takes right in telling its story there are similar scenes dragging it down with special FX wizardry that isn’t horribly impressive and storylines that are one too many. Most of these storylines feel long from these extended action sequences, such as a subplot involving the Tharks with an extended gladiator-style fight sequence. The tone of the movie is too uneven, settling on being a generic action movie like Cowboys & Aliens that does fight sequences and does them well, but what puts it at a level that is worth seeing?
What John Carter gets right is the world. It’s refreshing to see the series that inspired what are now renowned Sci-fi films like Star Wars finally on the big screen, and one can tell that within the opening minutes John Carter is an original piece of work even with all the imitations since. The adventure these characters face seem bigger than what the film shows us, and that’s a good thing. The reason why John Carter’s superpowers exist due to his biology is all done right and some of the best moments in the film. As he discovers those and becomes acclimated with the world of Mars we are along for the ride, interested in seeing how John Carter is going to travel and get back to Earth. But then comes one action sequence after another, none really standing out any better than another. The only conflict that Stanton is able to create in these is by putting Carter’s legs in shackles so he can’t use his jumping superpower.
I feel that John Carter is doing the best with what it can after numerous studio delays and changes, and by no means does that make it a bad film. It’s a passable film, nothing wrong with it and some interesting things here and there but hard to recommend too. It’s too long on stories, not in a complicated way but in an uninteresting way. Stanton’s Pixar work doesn’t have a lot of action work and it shows that these are his first, most of them dragging from one to another with no sense of spectacle or suspense unlike his fellow live-action Pixar cohort Brad Bird did in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. John Carter seems to have everything going for it: the world, the story and some nice twists, but where it falters is in too much story and no real suspense for any action or characters. Characters can be interesting but if we’re not rooting for them then what’s the point?