Edgar Rice Burroughs was an author who is most famous today for his “Tarzan” novels. They were simple tales of a forest-dwelling ape man and his love, Jane. But he also wrote one series of books that has been quite influential on the sci-fi realm: the John Carter series.
However, outside that world, John Carter has not had the immortality of Tarzan. I haven’t the slightest idea why, but the first movie adaptation of the book is a good indication.
“John Carter” is about a Civil War-era cavalry man who was on the hunt for a cave of gold. While in an attempt to escape capture from some other soldiers, Carter encountered a being of Mars, killed him and was then transported to the Red Planet. There he discovered he could jump very high and possessed increased strength and agility. He was then swept up into a civil war between two groups of people defined not by characteristics, but by colors: red and blue.
First, let’s start with the good, as that will be much faster. The movie looked fantastic. Disney spent a reported $250 million on this film, and it showed. The aliens known as Tharks were richly detailed as well as the cities (one of which was moving) and other-worldly items.
The 3D wasn’t always great given Mar’s barren landscape, but it also succeeded where it should during action sequences and so forth. But, alas, that was the movie’s only saving grace.
There were not one but several major problems I had with this movie, but I will start with the biggest: the actor playing John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch (“Battleship,” “Friday Night Lights”). Kitsch had the star-power and charm of a fishbowl in “John Carter.”
There was no humor, grace, depth or passion in his performance. He flopped through his lines, giving them a constant sense of arrogance and brashness that made the lead appear like an unlikable airhead.
Never once did I root for the hero as I should; I more so cringed whenever he opened his mouth. And never once did he show the slightest bit of surprise being on Mars other than the occasional, “Where the hell am I?” It was especially astounding given the movie took place in 1881.
On top of that, the movie’s script had just way too much going on. At the beginning of the film, we were introduced to Mars as a feuding planet. Then some God-like beings came down and gave a fishnet-looking weapon to the film’s villain. The plot also involved an unwanted wedding, Carter’s past, something called the ninth Ray, an alien and his supposed daughter, the God-like beings and their plot, Carter’s returning home, all wrapped up in the red group’s taking over of Mars. With this mess, my biggest issue was for all these plots, there was no other reason for them besides “because.”
Why were they fighting over Mars? Because of resources? Because of water? So an evil oil baron could take over Muppet studios? Nope. It’s just because, hey, it was Mars. That pretty much summed up everything. The lead heroine Dejah (Lynn Collins) didn’t want to marry the villain as a sign of peace because, well, he was mean, and the ninth Ray must remain a mystery because it was just really, really powerful.
It could go on, but I won’t because clearly reasons didn’t matter. For a while now, Disney has been trying to replace the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies as its big franchise. It has since failed with movies like “Tron: Legacy,” “Prince of Persia” and, now, “John Carter,” as it also disappointed at the box office.
And I know why. Within the last year, I remember reading an article in which certain Disney executive said he had no interest in making “good movies,” only a profit. That meant scripts have been woefully underdeveloped with dull characters like “John Carter” and “Tron.” As long as they can deliver in spectacle, it’s fine. It’s an insult to the audience who explains why all its recent endeavors (outside of “Alice in Wonderland”) have disappointed. Hell, if even your hero and villain have no conflict or interaction with each other, other than the fact that one is, indeed, a hero and one is a villain, then you have a problem.