‘John Carter’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated March 12th, 2012 at 6:23 am,

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

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Review John Carter

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.

[poll id="283"]

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:
TAGS: john carter

132 Comments

Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.


If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it.

  1. I thought the movie was good and original, and the idea of traveling (teleporting) through a sacred passage that was in/on the mountain reminded me of a episode of UFO hunters. I give it an A-. Go see it if you haven’t already.

  2. Not a perfect film but theres nothing I can fault it for either.I liked the actors the sets the cg the story etc.John Carter is one of the most sound fantasy films in years.Ive been around long enough to know that these kind of movies are hit or miss.Critics seem focused on the budget & the bottom line & returns more than anything else.Keep in mind Blade Runner was a box office disappointment & now its considered a modern classic.So my advice is to just follow your geek heart & find out for yourself.There arent many movies I trek to a theater to see twice but John Carter might be the rare exception.

  3. It suffered from uneven pacing and uneven tone (or maybe just different than my initial expectations). I was surprised the film had these problems in a Stanton film. I don’t see any Pixar lineage here.

    However, none of those problems make this a terrible experience. The film is still “solid” and true to itself. It has heart and romance. There are a lot of really good things here. Actually, this is sort of how I felt after seeing ‘Empire Strikes Back’ for the first time—so I imagine repeat viewings clear up the uneven issues. This is not Transformers action (thankfully). This is a blast from the past type of film.

    Would love to return to Barsoom in the future.

  4. Hey, I was wondering, did anyone else notice that the cast of John Carter was like a Rome (HBO tv series) reunion?? They had Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Atia, and Caesar’s slave in that movie, pretty weird to see Mark Antony and Caesar together again… lol.

    But seriously, 4 actors from that one show end up in a movie together?? What are the chances??

    • 67.35%

      Vulcan petaQ!!!

      8-)

    • Haha! I totally agree. I actually paused the movie to call my bro who is a huge Rome fan. I loved their dynamics in Rome, it was nice to see them all together again.

      • Especially the guy who plays Mark Antony, James Purefoy, he was hilarious in this movie.

  5. Maybe it was my incredibly low expectations, but this movie felt like a breath of fresh air. I like happy endings, and Disney doesn’t really disappoint at that. I was expecting a cheesy movie I won’t ever emotionally engage with, but thankfully it wasn’t anything like that. Also, there’s a wedding dress worth the price of admission.

    • I saw John Carter it’s not A bad movie,not quite the blockbuster everyone was talking about. The only thing that disapointed me was wene I went to the 7:15 show and I was the only one in the theatre. That’ right I was the only one there. Wene I saw the Ghosts of Mars there were six other peaple there and at leasty ten others for Haywire. So what does that tell you.

      • What does that tell me? That you got a private screening! Awesome.

  6. I liked it…a LOT!

  7. I was disappointed that Disney has apparently already classified this movie as a ‘flop’. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I really enjoyed it and so did my 15 year old son. Great way to introduce these old adventure/sci-fi stories to a new generation. I loved reading ERB Barsoom books when I was a teen, and now I hope he will too. It doesn’t have to be an Oscar contender to be a fun and enjoyable movie.

  8. VERY EXCELLENT! ;DD <33 love it so MUCH!

  9. Late post but I liked the movie a lot. My only real complaint was that JC was a MUCH better swordsman than the movie made him out to be. In the books he was hailed as the best swordsman of two worlds. He simply needed to be more skilled instead of disgruntled.

  10. Just saw it today and i thought that it was a pretty good movie idk y more ppl go and watch it its pretty entertaining hope theres a sequel but thats prob unlikely

  11. I liked the movie but I felt the flow was too muddled at times. To be honest this felt like it would be a kick a sci fi channel movie or even tbs series or something. It just didn’t have a block buster feel. I felt like it be a good redbox movie night not the 8 dollars I paid for it.

  12. We just saw John Carter last night. It was great!!

  13. Contrary to all the bad reviews I’ve read and heard about ‘John Carter’ the movie… I’d say if people taken on views expressed by others, they’d never be able to have an opinion for themselves. Having said that, hats off to Disney… great movie!!! The movie for what it was, was engaging, kept to the plot, funny, action-oriented and really kept you absorbed… Yes, there were similar scenes from other movies, but I loved it… it was not overdone and I’d say, thus far for 2012, it’s the best movie I’ve seen – and that’s my personal opinion.

  14. Contrary to all the bad reviews I’ve read and heard about ‘John Carter’ the movie, I’d say if people take on views expressed by others, they’d never be able to have an opinion for themselves. Having said that, hats off to Disney… great movie!!! The movie for what it was, was engaging, kept to the plot, funny, action-oriented and really kept you absorbed… Yes, there were similar scenes from other movies, but I loved it… it was not overdone and I’d say, thus far for 2012, it’s the best movie I’ve seen – and that’s my personal opinion.

  15. What do critics know? It was entertaining. The 3D was unnecessary though, most filmmakers don’t seem to know how to use it.The Hobbit will be the next real 3D film I would imagine.

    • I tend to agree that critics tend to punish big budget movies; even hoping to see them flop. The pity about “John Carter” was that is was an enjoyable movie experience that for me that many people will never get to have because they have bought into the hype of a group of people who lack the talent and imagination of the people who make movies (and many of us who see them). This is one of the more fair reviews that I’ve read and it is generally more positive, but I disagree with several points. You can’t have character without character development. The reviewer states that the movie assumes we know who John Carter is, but then criticizes the film for spending too much time in expostion. I think the big problem is that many feel that exposition and action cannot exist in the same film. You hear reviews praising a film for being “non-stop action and thrills”. While this may be an exageration, most of these types of films sacrifice plot for action and are really do nothing for the imagination (other than pummel it with mindless gore and violence). “John Carter” is a worthy film because it tells a gret story, while giving spectacular action, adventure and visuals. It is a pity that some people cannot appreciate the story and find it boring.

  16. Amazon is taking orders for the John carter DVD, Bluray, 3D, digital 4 disc combo set. I don’t have a 3D TV, but the combo package sells for $34.99 before a $5 off coupon for early orders. This is basically the same price as the 2 disc Bluray. That brings the price of the 4 disc combo down to the same price as the 2 disc blue ray. I ordered one because I’m a John carter fan. It’s also basically the same price as going to the IMAX and buying popcorn and a soda. This way I get to see J.C as many times as I like. I can always sell the 3D disc to someone that has a 3D for $10 bucks or so. It looks like the DVD has a bunch of extras too.

    • Disney’s already declared it a $200 million write-down, so just wait a few more weeks and it’ll probably be on sale for less than ten bucks… as a special double-feature promo, along with “Mars Needs Moms”!

  17. Here is the Amazon info on the John Carter blue ray.

    http://www.amazon.com/John-Carter-Four-Disc-Combo-Blu-ray/dp/B005LAIH3G/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1333219147&sr=8-2

  18. Worth seeing. Don’t pass this movie up.

  19. Have not seen it, but from the trailer it looks like an old fashioned
    sci fi film……….which appeals to me.
    I will see it on DVD…

  20. This was the most boring movie ever.
    the pacing was terrible.
    the effects were very well done though.

  21. It’s a shame the marketing and commercials for this movie were so awful. I had to talk people into seeing it because they were basing their decisions on the ads. I really enjoyed the movie, it was just a fun time from beginning to end. The little doglike creature was great. Go see it.

  22. after the first 5 minutes I was expecting the guys from mystery science theatere to start commenting. As the movie played out however the quality of this picture took form. They did a great job of using the effects to tell the story and not just give us a flashy light show like wrath of the titans is. There is some substance to this story and while its not the best movie out there it is still great to see that studios are willing to produce good scifi flicks with story and not just effects. John carter will be known and remembered much longer than most the films playing right now because its differant than anything youve seen before.
    If your thinking about going to see wrath of the titans save yourself from the let down and go see John Carter instead.

  23. We saw it at an afternoon matinee and there couldn’t have been more than 8 people in the whole room, and now I know why. Where’s the blood-n-guts, sword-fighting John Carter I remember from the books, who saves the scantily-clad buxom martian babes from alien monsters? This looks like they took those stories that were never that “family-friendly”, and instead tried to turn them into something you could take the kiddies to see. So it was OK for a cheap matinee, and maybe just fine for the crowd that likes “Pocahontas” and “Saving Nemo”, but this could have been a lot more exciting and interesting than just a cute CGI “dog”. Disney should probably just stick to what they know best, like cartoons!

  24. The basic problems involved in any adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories is whether a work of the early 1900′s can “teleport” to 2012 or beyond. Burroughs’ Lost Pelucidar and Tarzan series of books also had similar thematic devices (e.g. alternating cliff hangers at the end of each chapter, and multiple story threads that dovetail at the end). But John Carter purports to be sci-fi and therefore is immediately thrust into a cinematic competition among modern audiences. Most moderns are aware that Mars has a lower gravitational pull – but most also know that air is VERY rare there. John could be a bit stronger on Mars…. IF he could breathe at all. Those of us who appreciate the art of Frank Frazetta can handle bare limbs and bodies just fine – but tossed in with so many recent bare-chested films it might become more of a blur (e.g. Conan, Prince of Persia etc.) Fortunately for me, I like most movies on their own footing and try not to compare them with the books they were based on. For example, a true Greek mythology fan will be turned upside down by the Titans movies.

  25. I LOVED it. Thought it was FANTASTIC. I have no idea why everyone made it out to stink (quite a shame). We had to drive 45 minutes to a drive-in theater to see it, it was worth it and I’d see it again.

  26. At the end of John Carter, J.C. was on his way back to mars. That’s good because John Carter had a son, Carthoris, and daughter, Tara he doesn’t know about…surprise John!!. It’s unfortunate we probably won’t see another John Carter film from Disney. I really hope the DVD has a directors cut and plenty of extra features, which I believe both are included

  27. literally just watched this film and i must admit i really loved it, sure some of the cgi looks abit sketchy and the lead actors are a tad wooden but this film had heart, the lead actor (Taylor Kitsch) is a relatively untried actor but he hit the nail on the head with his role in this film, he played it really well and it was just about believable, i loved the relationship between John carter and Woola (the weird alien dog) proof that no matter where you are, man’s best friends is always there.

  28. My daughter & I watched this movie & absolutely loved it! It was action packed from beginning to end, had great special effects & graphics, funny, and it was also a love story, aaaahhhhhh. I love you John Carter! :-)

  29. I have the John Carter DVD and watched it. It’s very good, but it’s full of Disney trailers. I don’t mind trailers, but please put them somewhere other than before the start of the feature film menu Mickey. All I’ll say is there is really nothing new here that we didn’t see in the original film. I do hope there are more John Carter films though.

    As far as the DVD itself, I’m really disappointed that there wasn’t any extra footage or a directors cut. Yes there are bloopers and a talk over that says little about the John Carter story. There are the usual extras that most DVDs have but nothing special. I wish there was a description of what is meant by BONUS on the cover.

    All in all I’m glad I bought the 3D BluRay set. I actually got a partial refund from Amazon for 5 bucks. All in all I’m satisfied because if I ever get a 3d TV, I’m ready……On to Promethium tonight.