‘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. BTW, Kofi, by rouge charm I asssume you mean rogue charm?

    • actually i’m pretty sure he meant “rouge” a pun on the “red planet” the majority of the movie is based on

      • Kitsch previously played Gambit on screen. Gambit’s dates a chick named Rogue in the comics. Hence, Rogue charm.

        • Hahaha – definitely meant “rogue.” Thanks for the typo catch.

  2. And I, of course, mean assume, not asssume.

  3. Great pic of light ship artwork. Nice screen background

  4. Given there was no way a Disney movie would be released where a Confederate soldier was anything other than bitter and disillusioned, the theme of the movie couldn’t be the same as ERB’s books. However overall it’s not too bad.

  5. I enjoyed it. A 4/5 for me.

  6. This movie was excellent. It was everything that the last three Stars Wars SHOULD’VE BEEN. I almost didn’t take my son to see this because of the negative criticism, but I am sooo glad I went in with a open mind. Clearly, this movie was a labor of love for the director. I really do hope that this film catches on with the public. It more than deserves a sequel.

    • @Xmasevebaby

      I am with you on this one. I normally hate everything Hollywood does, in fact I can watch a movie with people and see a totally different movie than they do having a high standards issue and I liked this movie? I loved the comic book though, so perhaps its emotional. I also read the reviews and nearly canned seeing this one based on them and am glad I went anyway. I am sure they could have fleshed it out more (for the detractors) by making it a three hour film but I for one am sick of three hour movies.

  7. My entire family enjoyed the movie (that includes a wife and daughter who never read the original books). By the way, the reference to the “classic Disney hero’s journey (complete with princess and animal sidekick)” mentioned in the review should perhaps note that it was Burroughs who wrote it that way, Disney did not add the characters.

    • If anything the “Too fantasy” designs were vastly toned down from the book.

  8. Just got back form the movie. Going into this movie season I figured that John carter would be this years Green Lantern. I came out with the thought that this might be one of the better movies this year. Time will tell if this is the new “Pirates” series for Disney. A good start though. A-

  9. The movie is awesome and I am hoping for a sequel. I saw it with my wife and it was great. liked it netter than avatar

  10. I listened to a BBC podcast a couple of weeks ago (BBC radio 5: Mark Kermode, who is a UK film critic), They interviewed the director who confirmed that Disney dropped the “OF MARS” from the title due to a Disney focus group telling them that some cinema folk avoid a film if there are anything remotely “sci-fi” in a title. BIZARRE for something that is supposed to be sci-fi! No wonder the Disney marketing failed miserably. I went to go see John Carter OF MARS on Friday here in London, UK. I enjoyed (Not blown away) it as a cinema experience however theres plenty wrong with it – but I am willing to overlook the “mistakes” due to it being mildly entertaining atleast (Unlike Green Lantern).
    I dont see them making a second one – given its costing 250 mil dollars to make – unless the non USA audiences connect with John Carter of Mars like they did with Waterworld back in the 1990s that managed to make its budget back. Making budget dont guarantee a follow up though and its a shame because Andrew Stanton deserves a second shot at John Carter of Mars on passion alone. He did well for his first live action and will learn from the experience.
    James Cameron (Avatar) and George Lucas (Star wars) owes alot to Edgar Rice Burroughs and its partly why this film seemed dated and tired at times (In regards of set pieces). Its almost like a reformed band who CREATED a type of music genre trying to make a comeback but is struggling because newer bands took their style made it popular, made money of it and is now living the dream (See Anvil).

    • That’s an interesting story re: the Disney “focus group”, especially that it would cause such a fundamental change in the production. Makes one wonder how much of the rest of the film was similarly “micro-managed” by Disney brass, and if so, it might explain a lot of things. In any case, regardless the comments here, the Screenrant review seems to be ahead of the curve, as audience receipts have already fallen off sharply just since the release date, and the critics’ reviews have been especially unkind (at less than 50% approval)…. definitely not a good start for one of the most expensive films in Hollywood history!

          • Yeah saw the figures, including the huge box office showing in Russia. Though kinda ironic (and maybe a sign of the times!) that a film so distinctly “American” (Disney & ERB), should make most of its money overseas now!
            IMHO, this property would have been handled much better by a studio like DiLaurentis, than by a huge conglomerate like “family-friendly” Disney. Stanton still bears a lot of responsibility, but one can only imagine what it must have been like trying to sell the Disney suits on a quasi-”adult” themed pulp fiction hero to begin with. So no surprise that the pretty-but-dull Deja Thoris looks more like a nerdy cross between Pocahontas and the Little Mermaid, rather than say, the typical voluptuous sexy “Frank Frazetta” illustrations! ;-p

        • @Ivan Ferreira

          …and THAT is EXACTLY what M. Night Shayamalan said about Disney! They have non-creative marketing executives telling everyone what and how. How can you possibly think people with no imagination should control highly-creative people’s visions? If that were true Star Wars, Jaws, The Thing, Scarface, Unbreakable, The Passion of Christ, Alien,Predator and Terminator would never be what they are today.

  11. For anyone that’s interested they’ve got most of the ERB books on iBooks for free

  12. Go see this movie. If you have male children under the age of 8 it is your legal obligation to take them to go see this movie.

    By Thark Gar You Shall…BloaDogu Jarsoom!

    • Because…. no female children under 8 would enjoy this film? Because girls and boys couldn’t both enjoy this story? Do we really need to separate who sees what movie?

      I don’t understand your comment at all.

      • Wow. It is a Disney film yes but Edgar Rice Burroughs work is geared more towards boys than girls. I wasn’t making a secret statement on sexual politics or saying girls shouldn’t see it, just that girls would probably enjoy a different type of movie where areas boys will go bonkers over this one. I grew with 13 cousins, all female, none of them liked Star Wars or comic books. The female lead in this has no time to develop, most of the story revolves around Carter so identifying with the female lead will be tough.

        I don’t understand your weirdness at all.

  13. I just returned from viewing this film and I must say I was blown away by this “Movie” the Special Effects were awesome!!.. The plot was refreshing and the acting was good!! I have to say that this film was just as good and every bit as entertaining as “Avatar”. I thought that Lynn Collins lit up the screen with those sexy outfits and deep blue eyes, very hot!!! I would recommend this film to anyone that likes action/adventure!!!!

    • I agree with Samuel Hunt. I liked this movie’s special effects and the overall story/plot was amazing! I find it an utmost parallel to “Avatar in quality. Also when you watch it, listen to the music. I’d like to get my hands on that score.

  14. Just got home from the flick and loved it, as did my picky, non-sci-fi oriented wife. Plot and character development was adequate for a first-in-series (obviously) flick, CGI was top notch (must be nice to have 2-years and $250M to play with), and not too cartoonish (I was concerned about potential for too much Dizzny influence). Quite frankly, we found it to be better than Avatar (which was basically a $300M remake of Fern Gully).

    The main thing I would have liked to have seen was for Mr. Carter to be more kick-ass — considering the development of his species on a planet with 3x the gravity as Mars, the screen writers blew a nice opportunity to give your average Confederate Captain some physical abilities to be proud of (other than the ability to leave over tall buildings in a single bound). I’m sick of smug aliens beating up on our boys — it’s about time we get a chance to seriously kick some green butt.

    • @BullSanSantos

      “a $300M remake of Fern Gully”


      …thanks you made my night

  15. Saw the movie. Due to the uneven pace and lacking character development it seems to me that at least 30 minutes of the movie has been cut – just to get it to a reasonable cinema size length.

    Hopefully, we’ll see a longer and a more complete version when the blu-ray is released.

  16. Sadly, the screenwriters (Michael Chabon and Mark Andrews) on this movie just destroyed a perfectly great epic tale. A franchise botch job – a new low for Disney. Utterly incompetent. Shame, there was so much potential in this project…

  17. When I saw the guys with the four arms, all I could think was…Jar Jar Binks. All the CGI characters looked phoney and, well, like CGI characters. The light ships, or whatever they were called, also were boring/ridiculous. Please let there be NO sequel to this nonsense.

    • Though I wouldn’t call it ridiculous, I agree on the CGI characters looking phoney. Even that first scene where John discovers he can jump high, the jumping scenes have poor special effects. Special effects in the movie were good, but not as realistic everywhere as people made them out to be.
      Liked the movie, but yeah, wouldn’t give it more than 3 out of 5.

  18. ***** SPOILER WARNING *****
    My wife and I saw the movie Saturday and both of us enjoyed it immensely. I read the books in the 70′s and have reread them 3-4 times over the years – always a good read. Having said that, the movie didn’t follow the story lines of the book as well as I’d hoped; there is one line from the first book that should have been in the movie, early on where he says “my princess” without knowing the significance of saying those words (effectively a betrothal statement), which is capped later in the book by him repeating it and it being accepted at that time. Other story elements are missing or changed too – the planet transference from Earth to Mars was made by a mechanism in the movie which was non-existent in the book, the war with the Zodangans (a different book/story altogether), and the end of the book was the failing planet oxygen generators and Carter winning that but losing by transferring back to Earth, being separated from his love. I admit to being something of a purist in this storyline but still I enjoyed the production of this one and hope for more.

    • Next time, you might consider putting a ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** before making such comments.

      • @Kahless – I agree and have added it.

        Paul Young

    • couldnt agree with u more, for anyone who has read the books this is a complete let down. How is it that hollywood feels the need to take a lasting epic sci-fi story and rewrite it, what made it great was Burroughs and in their infinite wisdom they decided he was wrong. I wish they would just write their own stories and leave classic tales alone.

  19. the movie is really bad!! someone like jock mahoney was needed to play john carter!!!!! lynn collins is no dejah thoris. a beauty like rita hayworth who moved with beauty and grace was needed for the part of dejah.

  20. I enjoyed the movie. I hate comparisons to the Stars Wars characters. The book(s) are close to 100 years and is as visionary as Jules Verne. Although the purists will probably hate it, I think it deserves a sequel. And it’s much better then most of the Star War movies that Lucas turned into cartoon characters and toy sales. Great effects. Good Acting. 4 1/2 stars from me!

  21. Saw the movie on Sunday with my wife and 3 daughters, age 8,11 and 13. We all loved it. If you have read the books and are expecting a chapter by chapter remaking of the novel, then you will be disapointed. we saw the imax 3D version and it was great. The story had a good pace and my 2 younger daughters loved the 6 legged martian dog Woola. The visual effects were great and the action and battle sequences were well done with a very good soundtrack. Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris was stunning even though she is a more modern version of the character that ERB penned. We all thought it was better than the last 3 Star Wars films (that missed the mark). This is what a real sci fi Fantasy film should be. I don’t know why this film is getting bad reviews it was well worth seeing. I do think Disney blew it not calling it “John Carter of Mars” though.

  22. I really enjoyed watching John Carter. This review is very true, too. It’s not an amazingly great movie that will knock your socks off, but it’s fun to watch, I loved the characters and the story was good, too. It’s kinds quirky and I liked that about it too. I own only about 10 movies, and I think I’m going to add this one to my collection.

  23. I really wanted to like this movie, but the truth is it’s not a good one. The Script is right, the adaptation (with some twists) is admirable, the CGI actors are solid, the music superb but the (big) problem lies in Kitsch and Collins. It’s impossible to believe in them, to root for them, and even care for them. Also, some editing decisions are quite awkward (mainly in the first half). If this one was made entirely CG it would have been a better movie.

  24. Adapting the ERB books shouldn’t have been all that difficult. You would think that they could have picked up a trick or two from the likes of Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars 4-6, Indiana Jones etc. – just to name a few – but no. The picture is seriously flawed… The screenwriters did a botch job misinterpreting and removing all character development whatsoever. The main focus should have been on the emerging romance between John Carter and Dejah Thoris. The inept Andrew Stanton has poorly misjudged the pacing and focus altogether. 2/3 of the movie seem overly lengthy and superfluous. These two thirds could have been put to significantly better use. Taylor Kitsch’ subpar performance (lack of talent?) seemed annoyingly apathetic to the notion of being on another planet and the wonders around him.

    I’m truly disappointed to the point of being a little sad. It could have been a wonderful epic. Nevertheless, I would like to see how the sequels pan out. If only James Cameron had been at the helm…

  25. Mars Princess had too much clothes on…enuff said. Hah, ok seriously the movie is worth a watch and can be fun for most but did not feel epic at all. Perhaps today’s audience are no longer enthralled by fancy special affects alone and still need a solid story as well as a feeling of ,is this a kids movie? Also the 6 legged Mars dog was far too Jar Jar Binks esque to actually be annoying.

  26. My wife and I just got back from a night out at the movies, and I have to just say that we really loved the movie John Carter. We plan on reading the books next. It’s a shame that some critics are against it. Hopefully people will catch on and give this awesome movie a try.

  27. If you read the books you wont like the movie!

    • I read the books, and yeah – it wasn’t what I was hoping for. However, I took the movie for what it was, and that was a good movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and even though I was against the main actor, I really liked his performance. It was also well made and left me wanting more. I was really afraid that Disney would screw with the transition between John’s adventures.