John Carter of Mars Movie Review

 An epic sci-fi adventure close to home

Based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is a difficult movie to sum up.  Never having read the book, I can tell that it must be more complex than the fill makers bargained for.  There were questions left unanswered and intricate back stories that were only hinted at in the film.  The storytelling seemed to settle into itself after the first quarter of the movie.  Nevertheless, John Carter is an engaging film that displays a surprisingly seamless digital world.

John Carter tells the story of an unlikely hero who finds himself transported to a war-torn Mars where factions of humans and aliens vie for his help.  Suddenly, Carter is a champion who can literally leap tall buildings in a single bound (thanks to low Martian gravity and lighter bone density than the other humanoids).  While trying to survive and get back to Earth, he saves a scarcely clad Martian princess and sort of befriends an alien race, all the while struggling through flashbacks of his post-Civil War, outlaw life.  Throughout the story, god-like humanoids called Thurn briefly point out that they fix the destiny of the solar system.  Sound tricky?  It is.  This is all interwoven with a complex set up of a mysterious death, a mousy heir to a fortune named Ned and a very brief history of the peoples and conflicts of Mars.  Like a Western, the plot is slow to begin but sprawling once the cowboys and Indians are introduced.

This is a sci-fi, action adventure with epic battles, romance and humor.  No small-budget was used to create the massive effects and sweeping vistas of the red planet.  I had my doubts as to how many green-screen moments I would notice but the real beauty of John Carter is in the world it creates.  The landscapes of Mars were gritty deserts that felt like a National Geographic special more than a movie at times.  CG aliens were believable and it never felt like human characters were just talking to a tennis ball on a stick.  Maybe this was because Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton directed this meticulously crafted digital film.

Another refreshing attribute of John Carter is that it doesn’t rely on star power to bring powerful characters to life.  Relative newcomer Taylor Kitsch carried the film as Carter, though not without the help of a very truncated wardrobe (this is where the film saved big bucks).  Bare chested and thigh flaunting, Carter grew into a complex hero as the Martian sun bronzed his abs and emblazoned his spirit.  Lynn Collins who played the female lead Dejah Thoris, was just as plucky and nearly naked.  Star power came from off-screen in John Carter, featuring Willem Dafoe as the honorable alien clan leader Tars Tarkas and Thomas Hayden Church as the alien villain Tal Hajus.

Something about this film left me wanting more from the story and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it was the ending that seemed to wrap up all too quickly or the vaguely developed mater villains the Thurn.  What won me over was the neat package of action, characters and sci-fi elements that made this film epic.

Supposedly an inspiration to George Lucas and his little sci-fi western, the story of John Carter is deeper than it appears to be at the onset of the film.  Cheesy dialog gives way to intriguing plot twists.  The big green Martians have personalities beyond the pixels.  With the power of Disney moviemaking behind it, John Carter was given the scope Burroughs’ story deserved if not all the depth he authored.  If you can make it through the first convoluted fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be well-rewarded.  Just do what the person sitting next to me did-inconveniently check your iphone and pretend you’re the only one in the theater.


Easter Eggs!  Congratulations, you’ve made it to the bottom of the post.  Now it’s time to collect your reward (such as it is…)


Alternative first lines:

Who says white men can’t jump?

Yes Virginia, there are people on Mars.

The first thing you need to know about John Carter is that nobody wears pants on Mars.