‘John Carter’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:24 pm,

John Carter starring Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins Review John Carter Review

Is it a good enough movie experience to recommend buying a theater ticket? I’d say so.

Disney’s John Carter takes on the daunting task of trying to adapt sci-fi icon Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 novel, A Princess of Mars, into a 3D modern blockbuster. Not an easy task for a family-friendly studio when the (much beloved) book in question is a mix of century-old sci-fi tropes, violence, skin-baring costumes and bizarre alien creatures. It’s even more of a challenge for director Andrew Stanton, who has (to this point) only helmed animated features like Finding Nemo and WALL•E. The stakes get even higher when you factor in the untested leading man (Taylor Kitsch) and lady (Lynn Collins), who are tasked with carrying the film.

With so much riding on it, does John Carter manage to deliver the blockbuster experience Disney hopes it will be? Is Stanton as effective working with live actors and blockbuster set pieces as he is with animation? And are the fresh-face leading couple able to carry this massive film?

John Carter 10 minute clips John Carter Review

Taylor Kitsch as John Carter

In this version of the classic sci-fi tale, we are introduced to John Carter (Kitsch) in the 19th century Arizona territories, where the ex-confederate soldier turned loner-prospector has a run-in with some union army men that devolves into a skirmish with some local Apaches. Upon trying to find cover, Carter comes across a foreboding cave and a strange creature roaming inside of it. After a dangerous tussle and a flash of blue light form a mysterious amulet, Carter wakes up on the red planet of Mars (or “Barsoom” to the locals).

Due to the conditions of the red planet (something about human bone density and Mars gravity), Carter can jump really high and hit really hard. Those fancy abilities quickly attract the attention of the 8-foot-tall, four-armed, lime-green tribesmen known as the Tharks. One Thark named Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe) is less brutish than his brethren, and immediately recognizes Carter’s potential. So they tie him up and haul him back to their village.

From there, Carter (and the audience) learns all about the warring factions of Mars (the imperial Zodanga and the more peaceful Helium) – and somehow, in refusing to fight another civil war, our hero manages to walk right into the middle of said war… and the heart of Helium princess Dejah Thoris (Collins).

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris in John Carter1 John Carter Review

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris in ‘John Carter’

John Carter is better than its ill-conceived marketing campaign makes it look, often benefits from Andrew Stanton’s imagination and experience with animation, and is something of a breakout for its two leads (Kitsch and Collins). This doesn’t mean that the film is perfect, though. At all.

The story by award-winning writer Michael Chabon (Spider-Man 2) and Mark Andrews (Brave) mixes Burroughs’ vision of Mars with a classic Disney hero’s journey (complete with princess and animal sidekick). The film drags a bit in the middle (a notable misstep  in a two and a half-hour movie), and although the central storyline is well constructed, the film does a somewhat poor job of nailing down the larger mythos of Barsoom and its people. Martians come and go – some look green, some look human – there are bits of Martian politics, religion and history thrown our way, but little of it sticks in mind beyond what applies directly to Carter and his quest. The score by Oscar-wining composer Michael Giacchino (Up) does the movie a HUGE favor, by making the proceedings sound more epic than they actually are.

While the heroes are well-drawn and engaging, the film’s villains – Zodanga warlord Sab Than (Dominic West) and his shadowy master, Matai Shang (Mark Strong) – are thin, uninteresting, and more odd than menacing. Thankfully, most of film focuses on Carter’s expedition across Mars, rather than his run-ins with these antagonists.

Mark Strong in John Carter John Carter Review

Mark Strong in ‘John Carter’

Scene for scene the film is generally well-crafted, and offers a sense of both fun and adventure most of the time. The best moments are when Stanton allows some of his animation spirit to seep through, creating humorous (if not idiosyncratic) sequences that have a definite cartoon-esque feel, in the best way possible. (An early quick-cut montage of Carter repeatedly trying to escape from Union custody is just one example.)

The sci-fi elements (alien creatures, technology, etc.) are well-adapted from the novels and are visually impressive – but some of the creatures may be a bit too bizarre or frightening for children (the White Apes). Despite the technical prowess on display, there is also still a bit of incongruence in the mix between live actors and digital characters; the 3D is immersive, but not at all necessary.

Taylor Kitsch is a surprisingly effective leading man, offering a mix of rogue charm (geek points if you get that pun), subtle emoting, and that “X factor” look and charisma that denotes a star. Lynn Collins has managed to be something of a chameleon during her long career, but there is no overlooking her as Deja Thoris – what with her chiseled beauty, impeccable tan, solid acting chops and some sword skills that will make fanboys swoon.

Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas in John Carter John Carter Review

Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas in ‘John Carter’

Willem Dafoe proves he’s just as skilled at motion-capture performance as he is live acting, but many of the other big names in supporting roles –  Ciarán Hinds, James Purefoy, Polly Walker (all alumni of HBO’s Rome), Thomas Hayden-Church, Dominic West, Mark Strong and Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston – are woefully underutilized, given their skill level (if you even recognize some of them under all the digital effects or makeup).

Disney no doubt hopes that John Carter will be the beginning of a successful franchise (Burroughs wrote 11 volumes in his “Barsoom” series, so there’s a lot of material to work from). As such, the film ends in a kind of lackluster way that tries to offer some twists and surprises, but really just leaves a lot of of the bigger plot threads dangling.

Is John Carter as good as one would expect a movie in production for over two years – and a budget  of hundreds of millions of dollars – to be? Not really. Is it a good enough movie experience to recommend buying a theater ticket? I’d say so (though you can probably do without the 3D upgrade). Is the film good enough to warrant future installments? Well, now that the studio and the filmmakers have their feet firmly planted in red sands, I suspect a second visit to Barsoom would be smoother and more enjoyable than the first.

John Carter is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters everywhere. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.

If you want to discuss the movie without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it yet, please head over to our John Carter Spoilers Discussion.

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Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. it was better than i was expecting, which was for it to be terrible, but it i found myself enjoying it for the most part, i found lynn collins to be bland as hell though, sure she picked up a sword and is easy on the eyes but after seeing that so many times before i kind of want something a bit more from my leading lady. if you leave science at the door and just accept what the film throws at you then you’ll enjoy it. 6.5/10

  2. I’ll have to see it and decide for myself.

  3. I haven’t seen it yet. Is there any homage to Wold Newton?

  4. Thanks for the review Kofi, I trust your judgment. Anything three and above is game

  5. This is a much more promising review than the one I read in Entertainment Weekly. I trust Screen Rant a whole lot more, so I’ll probably be seeing it.

    • Saw it tonight and enjoyed it very much.

  6. I’m seeing it tomorrow at 12am.
    It’s been a while since I last saw a good movie in theaters (my last two trips to the cinemas was for GR2 and Project X…so, yeah…).

    I’m hoping it’s as good as this review lets on because the trailers really didn’t do it for me, but I’m actually rooting for this movie to be okay.

  7. I saw it and agree that there is good and bad, the action, and effects are great, the 3D is only really utilized in 3 or 4 scenes, not a necessity to enjoy it. It’s a far cry from the crap that was Prince of Persia! Yes the content is distilled a bit to be more family-friendly but it is still a decent movie and a fun night out with family or friends.

  8. Was the movie filmed in 3D or post-conversion? I just want to know because I have passes I can use for 3D movies, so it wouldn’t be an increase in price for me, but I still don’t want to waste them on crappy conversion ones…

    • I actually want to know this as well… I just don’t want to see a 3D movie that’s been post-converted (I’d rather see the 2D version in that case).

      • Yes same concern here, the 3D trailer for the movie looked pretty good and it appeared filmed on 3D actually.

        But Kofi finds the 3D unnecessary, so now I have no idea what to expect from the actual movie on that part!

        Anyone that saw it care to elaborate?

        Or should we just flip a coin to decide 2D or 3D! :P

        • Actually the 3D is only utilized in 3 or 4 scenes, so it isn’t necessary and you wont lose anything if you dont see it in 3D.

    • It is a 3D conversion for what its worth.
      Which is typically worthless, of course.

  9. Nice WoW misspelling reference, btw. Appreciated another good review, too.

    • rouges are overpowdered anyway.

  10. Great breakdown and rundown, Kofi.
    I know just what I’m up against now.

    I’ll approach this with a required forgiving
    heart since I’m looking for a good time.

  11. today i watched the movie, and i found story of movie quite interesting. There are some great nature landscapes shown and some cool effects also added.
    little bit of comic flavour added to sci-fi movie which makes it a good movie to enjoy. It’s not all that super sci-fi which goes over the head. It’s quite smooth and simple story with a hint of humor. :)
    overall 3.5/5 for the movie

  12. Just got back from seeing this. My verdict: SEE IT! It’s pretty awesome. It’s got a lot of elements that are very unique.

    I saw it in IMAX 3D. It was cool, but definitely not necessary.

  13. If you go into JCOM (John Carter On Mars) expecting the next epic saga like the first LOTR film then you went in with the wrong expectations. I imagine if you have read the original source material you may also be somewhat disappointed. If however you went in ready for the first popcorn blockbuster of the start of the 2012 Spring/Summer season then you will not be disappointed.

    I for one thoroughly enjoyed the film and felt that the 3d although post conversion was well done considering. It wasn’t in your face 3D but subtle even though it is post conversion.

    Personally its worth the ticket price to see super mega hot Lynn Collins in an amazonian warrior like costume and action scenes.

  14. Definitely enjoyed this movie, it has a ton of charm and pulpy action to satisfy every scifi action fan. 8.5/10

  15. Saw it this afternoon and really enjoyed it!

    The effects were great: the Tharks were exactly as I had pictured them in my mind since having discovered the ERB stories back in the late 70′s. Kitsch and Collins were pretty good as John Carter and Dejah Thoris. That being said, I agree with Kofi’s suggestion that they were underwhelming in their roles.

    Still, I hope this does become a franchise series for at least one or two more movies, as the source material left by Burrough’s has so many more stories left to tell.

    • I agree with Crom, great movie. Just got back from seeing it. Hope Disney makes a couple of more movies.

  16. Thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was fun and entertaining. My teenage son and his friends already want the sequel. Sure, there are things that could be improved but it is 100 year old pulp fiction…just go with it. I saw it in IMAX 3D…which I found to be slightly distracting so I am going back this weekend to see it 2D.

  17. It may have been a 3D conversion but I found it one of the better 3D conversions I’ve seen, with nothing looking too far out of place. The 3D was subtle and I prefer that. I hate it when objects are intentionally placed too far out making the film look like it exists in 2 or 3 flat layers.

  18. This was a movie that could have been as monumental as LOTR. Squeezing the first two books into one movie did the books and ERB a terrible disservice.

  19. Never read any of the books. But I sure enjoyed this movie , Was much better then any of the trailers show. It just makes sense,

  20. I loved about half the movie (the part by Burroughs). Stanton added way too much story, much of it cliched. The “red” male costumes were horrible, straight out of 1930s Flash Gordon. (And he says Frazetta is too old fashioned!) The action was too quick and confused, and the film needed to be longer. Still, I hope Stanton gets his sequels but stays much closer to ERB’s straightforward but powerful stories. And Sola was great.

  21. Just saw it tonight, I liked it. :-)

  22. Great movie. Best sci/fi pulp since Sky Captain

    Saw it I-Max 3D and it was awesome. Great f/x and action, nice little romace, great characters.

    Anyone with any respect of the genre or to see where tons of the films or books out there got their inspiration from need to see this.

  23. John Carter was fun overall. Like many of you I don’t like 3D. Yes it was distracting most of the time. Chances are I won’t see it again till the Bluray release.

    I agree with others that the story was a bit confusing, and I think I know why. The John Carter film is actually two ERB books combined. I researched this on Wiki, and found little in the plot likes posted that resemble anything in the film storyline. Mostly the Therns are a big question for me. Nowhere in the books does it say that the Therns can change there appearance. I also can’t find any reference to the blue crystal, or the powers it has. I don’t see anywhere where the Therns go to earth in the book plot lines.

    I think the folks that converted The Princes of Mars to a screen play really altered the original story so it really isn’t the ERB story.

    Yes it was a fun movie. Yes I’m a light ship fan. Yes I like walking cities. Yes I do not like 3D, but I came away from this film very confused as to what John carter is all about. It wasn’t necessary to alter the story as much as it was. I have been to mars and I’m a little lost.

    If I have erred in my understanding of the Therns or John Carter in general, please point me to the JCOM books where all of this plot line in the film shows up in print.

  24. Good adaptation. They took some liberties with the original stories, but not excessively. I really enjoyed it. 8.5/10

  25. Okay, I saw John Carter today, and to my surprise, I really liked it.
    As I’ve said before, the trailers didn’t look that good, but the finished product really delivered IMO.
    The action and special effects were good. Lynn Collins was hot. The acting was just fine and by the end of the movie, I actually cared about the characters and what’ll happen to them next.
    Oh and Lynn Collins was hot (did I already mention that?)
    Anyway, I have to agree that the story was a bit too confusing at some points, but for the most part, I managed to follow the general plot ;)

    The 3D was unnecessary though (I would have given it a skip anyway, but the theater I watched it at didn’t have a 2D version yet.)

    Honestly, I’d recommend this to someone who’s looking for an escape from reality. It’s worth the money and it’s worth the time.
    4 Stars from me.

    (Just one question: there was one or two times when the camera panned over to the sky – revealing Earth and another planet… was that other planet supposed to be Venus, or the moon, because if it was supposed to be the latter, then they SERIOUSLY got their scale wrong)

    • Possibly it was Venus. Besides JCOM ERB also did a series of 5 novels featuring Carson Of Venus. Ironically, of all ERB series the one I completely ignored was the John Carter series. I read all the rest, and now I am debating whether or not to see this movie first, of go back and read the novels first. If Disney is contemplating Venus and other ERB works then there is a huge library to pull from.

    • Do you mean the two moons of Mars?

      • Were they the moons of Mars?!
        I really didn’t get that impression. (At one point, when Carter was talking about his home planet, he looked up at the sky with a sad face — I assumed that he was looking up at earth)

        • I think he was generically looking upwards. Those were the moons. They referenced the light of the moons for the wedding ceremony multiple times too.

        • He looked at the moons when he realized he wasn’t on Earth. It was his “aha moment” seeing two moons rather than one.

          • Ah okay… thanks for clearing that up man :)