‘John Carter’: How can an action flick make you yawn?
On the planet Barsoom, the Therns, Tharks, Jeddaks, White Apes, an alien named Tars Tarkas and a Martian princess named Dejah Thoris are among the cast of characters.
Sound like I’m speaking a bunch of gobbledygook?
Well, that’s precisely how I felt during a lot of John Carter. Granted, I was unfamiliar with the source material — the 100-year-old A Princess of Mars novel, the first in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, but this movie adaptation didn’t do such a good job of reeling me in as a potential fan.
I typically have trouble buying into these fictional fantasy-action flicks, and John Carter is no different. It aspires to be the next epic sci-fi tale, a la Star Wars and/or Avatar. I predict those who aren’t already a fan of Burroughs will find John Carter a forgettable, distant memory, sooner rather than later.
The pacing felt uneven; the characters were flat. Sometimes I was engaged and invested in what was going on, but more often than not, I was yawning and wondering when it would end.
The long-haired Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) is the title character, a Civil War veteran from Virginia who is looking for gold in Arizona. I imagine Kitsch was cast more for his rugged good looks than his acting ability. His well-chiseled physique is on display since he spends a good deal of time shirtless.
Anyhow, Carter suddenly gets transported to Mars and is thrust into a vicious civil war involving the green giant alien Tharks, the red-skinned, human-like Martians and the blue-skinned Zodangans. It’s your basic battle of good vs. evil, with one man who can save the world but doubts whether he can, or should.
It’s quite obvious sparks are going to fly between Carter and the one beautiful woman on the planet, Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium (Lynn Collins). Unfortunately, Dejah is set to marry (against her will) Sab Than, Prince of Zodanga (Dominic West), to ensure peace in Barsoom.
Carter’s arrival on Mars (known as Barsoom to the locals) was one of the more interesting aspects of the movie. The early interaction between Carter and the non-English-speaking alien Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) offered some welcome humorous banter — there’s an ongoing joke that Carter’s name is Virginia. Carter’s ability to jump immensely intrigues Tarkas and the other Tharks, and they decide to keep him alive.
Woola, the Martian version of what we Earthlings would call a dog, also provided some comic refief.
Overall, John Carter is a disappointing first live-action flick from director Andrew Stanton (the man behind Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Wall-E), with a flimsy conversion to 3-D to boot. At just over two hours, John Carter feels long at times, but the pace moves quickly — almost too quickly. The action scenes feel big-budgety (reportedly 250 million buckaroos worth of action), with a lot of computer-generated swashbuckling.
I do hope that John Carter is not the newest action-movie hero worthy of sequel after sequel. If the rest of the series is anything like the original, I’ll be yawning a lot. ••
Movie Grade: C