[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a counterpoint to our positive review of John Carter, and reflects the sole opinion of contributor John Hanlon.]
John Carter could have been a good movie. In fact, I included it in a list of 10 films that we here at Screen Rant were looking forward to this month. The trailer made the imagery look exciting and I was eagerly anticipating one of the first leading movie roles that Friday Night Lights alum Taylor Kitsch was taking on. Unfortunately, I was massively disappointed by this tired adaptation of the iconic Edgar Rice Burroughs story.
Admittedly, some here at Screen Rant have enjoyed this wannabe sci-fi epic, including managing editor Kofi Outlaw, who wrote our official John Carter review. But as a viewer and a critic, I was greatly disappointed – so I’ve composed a list of five reasons why the movie was a ‘fail’ for me. As always, let us know your own opinion in the comments below.
WARNING!!! ARTICLE CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS!!!
John Carter focuses on the title character, who in the late 19th century is a Civil War veteran frustrated with the war. He’s a veritable misanthrope who no longer wishes to fight, and declines an invitation to rejoin the battle. But shortly after he rejects that idea, he is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he unwittingly becomes involved in a battle for the survival of that planet and its inhabitants.
This strange concept seems bizarre enough to scare away possible viewers. A Civil War veteran fighting on Mars? This isn’t a plot that should be adapted into a movie. It sounds more like a dream someone has when they’ve been spent an evening reading both history and comic books. It’s not an interesting mix of concepts (or at least, it’s very dated) and this shows throughout the story.
Okay. Getting beyond the bizarre story that finds Carter on a distant planet, it’s important to focus on the characters in the film. Strong relatable characters can, at times, compensate for a bad plot or a silly storyline.
However, that doesn’t happen here. For me, there were no interesting or identifiable characters in the entire film. Carter himself is a bland stereotypical archetype unwilling to engage in battle until he is thrust into it. At least Luke Skywalker served as a relatable character in Star Wars. But he had more personality than Carter. Not even any of the aliens he befriends are memorable. In fact, I found it difficult to keep track of them because I didn’t care for any of them.
The dialogue throughout this entire story is often atrociously wooden. First off, Carter’s banal banter is tough to bear. He speaks in strong committed sentences – “We’re nothing but a war species and I want no part of it,” he says, as if he has the authority of Moses. He continues with declarative sentences throughout the picture. “I don’t fight for anyone,” he says later, adding, “War is a shameful thing.” There’s no depth to dialogue like this and little reasoning behind it. It’s okay for a character to have a certain mindset about something, but Carter’s dialogue is so dry and uninspired that it’s hard to take an interest in him.
Not to mention the fact that the aliens’ dialogue isn’t any better. “You are ugly but you are beautiful,” one says to Carter. Of course, these throwaway lines are only the tip of the iceberg. When Carter first arrives on Mars, the aliens think that his real name is “Virginia” – a running joke that never actually works. And the romance between Carter and his alien princess doesn’t work because the script throws them together too quickly and never tries to find any depth in their relationship – something stronger dialogue could have helped develop.
It is one thing to make a disappointing film. It is quite another thing to make a disappointing film that lasts for nearly two and a half hours. John Carter meanders its way through 137 minutes of silliness and overdone action sequences. By the end of the movie, I understood the story that the writers were attempting to tell, but it should never have taken that long to get there.
More does not always equal better – see Transformers 2 for details – and this film seems to pack in as much action and battle sequences as possible. That doesn’t translate into an exciting movie. It translates into a failed epic that goes on for far too long with little depth or substance.
There are so many more reasons to be disappointed in John Carter. In addition to the aforementioned items, the visual effects aren’t even that good. Many of them look extremely fake, and for a movie that cost so much to produce, it’s surprising that the CGI team offered such a mediocre product.
The story also offers up a few other reasons to be disappointed. There’s a silly paternity revelation involving two aliens that feels like it could have been featured on an extraterrestrial version of Jerry Springer. There’s also a scene where Carter kills a beast and is covered in its blue blood, which makes it seem like Kitsch is either auditioning for a role in the Blue Man Group, or an extra in the new season of Arrested Development. These scenes add to the silliness of this entire endeavor.
John Carter is attracting mixed reviews from critics so it’s likely to engender debate among the audience (Feel free to join the debate at our John Carter Discussion thread).
As a fan of the Star Wars, I wanted this movie to work and to signal the beginning of a new epic science fiction series. Instead, it just showed me how hard it is to create a quality film with so many details to include. Screen Rant critic Kofi Outlaw and I surely disagree on the success of John Carter, but I encourage you to check out his review and then tell us who you think is right about this movie.
Here, again, are my five reasons for being so disappointed in John Carter….
- The Concept: A Civil War Veteran on Mars? What’s to Like?
- The Characters: No Memorable Characters to Relate to
- The Dialogue: No Depth or Substance in the Proceedings
- The Length: 137 Minutes of an Underwhelming Story
- Mundane Effects & Moments: Forgettable Effects, Alien Paternity & Other Silly Story Beats
Follow me on Twitter @johnhanlon.