DVD Review: John Carter

I'm a sympathetic movie-goer.  Like a sympathetic cryer, I try to get on board with whatever other people are doing.  Oftentimes that means I end up liking movies other people don't like.  I find myself finishing a lot of movies lately saying "I see what they were trying to do, but I don't think they made it" or "I liked a lot of the parts of that movie, but it didn't come together well."  I tell you this so you'll understand why I'm not totally panning Disney's John Carter, which it probably deserves as a whole.  The story is kind of inexplicable: John Carter, a cavalryman from the Civil War from Virginia, stumbles upon a sacred cave and is beamed to Barsoom (the planet Mars) where he is strong and can almost fly.  He meets some green 4-armed Martians who think he's pretty darn cool, and some white ape Martians who think he's pretty sexy.  Some of the white ape Martians are at war with each other and John Carter eventually agrees to fight again.  And it all works out in the end.  See, insane!  Makes almost no sense.  But there are things I liked about it and other things that are totally ridiculous and brought down the whole thing.

Things I liked: Taylor Kitsch as John Carter was actually really good.  His broody, "my life is much more complicated than I could possibly explain, but I'm moving on anyway" attitude, which he cultivated particularly well during "Friday Night Lights", works REALLY well to persuade us that he doesn't want to get involved in Martian politics because he's done enough fighting for a lifetime.  Oh, and he's pretty hot too. And fairly exceptionally badass given his Martian superpowers.  Second thing I liked: I really liked the underlying mystery that is the method of storytelling.  We begin the story with Carter's death, and we follow his nephew reading his journal to tell us the story.  I'm a sucker for this kind of storytelling because I never guess the ending.  It's complicated and convoluted, but allows for gaps in the time line really well (no one writes every second of every day in their journal).  And we find out the action along with a character as opposed to being force fed a lot of the material.  

Things I didn't like:  The insanely complicated Martian politics: There are two groups of humans, one led by Dominic West who has been given a super weapon and is out to destroy the cities of Mars.  The other led by Ciaran Hinds and his daughter Lynn Collins.  They are fighting over control of the cities.  But there are also the 4-armed green Martians who choose not to get involved.  We get no good vs evil back story, so it's hard to care who to root for.  The second thing that DROVE ME NUTS: The character names - seriously, these are the names.  Say them out loud, see if you can even tell them apart: Dejah Thoris, Kantos Kan, Tardos Mors, Tars Tarkus, Tal Hajus, Sarkoja, Tal Hejus, Matai Shang.  The first three are human, the next 3 are green aliens, and the last 2 are beings who work for the goddess.  Can you tell ANY of them apart?  No, me neither and I watched the movie.  

Overall, the movie is a strange mix of Star Wars Episode 1 (Jar Jar isn't far from the green 4-armed Martians), and Troy, with a dollop of Cold Mountain and a lot of Indiana Jones spiciness.  Yes, it's as odd as that sounds.


  1. The thing I kept in mind while watching John Carter, is that it's based on a very pulpy action series written over 100 years ago. I forgave a lot of its simplicity because of the source material, and actually came to appreciate the charm of its naiveté. The story does feel uneven as a whole, and since I decided to read the books afterwards, I'd say that has a lot to do with trying to combine too many plots from different books into one movie.

    I don't think John Carter is a great movie, but I liked it a lot, and I think, having read the books, I would have really liked to have seen a sequel. At least we can agree on the badass that is Tim Riggins.

  2. I too would have been willing to watch a sequel. Unlike Prince of Persia (which this felt like at times) I wouldn't have seen another. But this one had so much potential for terrific pulp content and could have gone on forever.

  3. Thanks for doing this thorough review on John Carter, Jess! I know you didn’t hate the movie but I really hope it is as bad as every other reviewer says it is. I have a weekly contest with a couple of my coworkers from DISH to see who can find the worst (best?) B movie and I have added John Carter to the top of my Blockbuster @Home rental queue in the hopes that it will be this weeks winner. I know we normally go for low budget stuff, but with the reviews that John Carter got, a big budget shouldn’t haven any effect.


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