John Carter Reviews
Capitalizing on the recent trend created by James Cameron's Avatar (2009), John Carter is another film about an American hero fighting a war on another planet. Much of the iconography is similar, and the heavy use of visual effects ensures that the production method is heavily similar. However, John Carter does not have the same narrative tenacity as Avatar.
Though John Carter presents a large scaled story about a big war on Barsoom, the film doesn't explain too much about the motives behind it all and instead chooses to focus strictly on what involvement the titular John Carter has in it. The story follows him in his adventures, but it never chooses to give him much in the way of characterization. The focus of the film is really scattered in this sense as a lot of things are happening, but within the confined focus of one character there is never all that much depth given to him which keeps him one-dimensional. John Carpenter is never a deep film and doesn't explore its otherworldly setting or the war occurring within it, adhering strictly to using them for visual purposes. There is minimal universe building and a really generic story as the shortage of support to the huge spectacle in John Carter, and it doesn't pay the film any favours to have a running time of 132 minutes with this kind of narrative shortcoming. Eventually I gave up on trying to track everything in John Carter because the script clearly wasn't sure which direction it wanted to go in and I didn't care enough to understand half the concepts it was making reference to.
However, because the narrative is so simplistic it is rather easy to follow. The attempts to integrate the larger aspects of the universe into the main story are arbitrary and can prove somewhat confusing to keep up with, but if you look at the story as a generic adventure of a swordsman on Mars then the experience is easier to enjoy. John Carter ended up being an experience far better than I expected, simply because it was a familiar story with brilliant production values that kept me captivated. No matter what was happening within the Barsoom setting, it is always interesting to look at because the production is one of such visual magnificence. The dialogue wasn't always marvellous, but the scenery was and so I was consistently lost in a visual marvel over the course of the film. John Carter is an absolutely astounding experience in the art of imagery because that is where all the money has gone, and it truly got the greatest set design money can buy. The production design and costumes create a spectacular image of a fictional society which maintains elements of Ancient Greece and science fiction at the same time. This presents an interesting society to Barsoom and effectively matches up to the gladiator concepts explored in the story.
Of course, the greatest visual aspect is the quality of the visual effects. Using the most powerful CGI money can buy, John Carter produces remarkable visual effects. Used for the sake of universe building, alien creation and action scenes, the visual effects in John Carter find versatile ways to make themselves relevant to the narrative. The detail in them is exquisite, and they use colourful creativity to depict the creatures and technology of Brasoom in a state of true amazement with incredible detail to every minor element of detail. There are occasionally moments where the animation can be a little stiff due to the extremely fast-moving nature of the subject being animated, but they are few and inbetween a far more impressive array of visual effects glory. The highlight of all the uses of visual effects is clearly the action scenes as they capture an entertaining spectacle in an effective variety. During the larger scale sequences there are aerial battles with extremely detailed depictions of flight. For the smaller-scale action scenes, there are depictions of armies at battle or few characters engaged in thoroughly intense combat. The smaller-scale scenes use a combination of visual effects, practical stunts and actual fight choreography to create visual exhilaration which is vastly entertaining. There is all this and more, and the quantity of action in John Carter proves very fulfilling, and with the sweeping spectacle of the film being supported by such a grand musical score on behalf of Michael Giacchino, the experience is one of exceptional value for the eyes and the ears. Ultimately, the production values of John Carter were sufficient enough to compensate for its narrative shortcomings and the lack of charisma inhibiting its lead actor.
Taylor Kitsch is the least involved cast member of the entire film, and this is really problematic considering that he's a lead actor. Clearly cast solely on the basis of his muscular appeal, Taylor Kitsch's only gimmick is spending nearly the entire film in a mostly-shirtless state without a hint of emotion to literally any line he says. He's as much a generic actor as Kellan Lutz in The Legend of Hercules (2014), and the two both share a similar appearance on and off-screen simply because neither of them have any major dramatic credibility as cast members. I'll admit that Taylor Kitsch's physicality was intense enough to make him a convincing action hero, but there is not a single line in the film which Taylor Kitsch speaks with any charisma whatsoever. It's almost stunning how bland the actor is and how anybody thought he had the performance capabilities to actually play the leading role because is an incredibly forgettable and generic figure who was barely fit to act in The Covenant (2006). That was just another film where his shirtless appearance was the prime directive for his casting, except that this time he stands as the face of an estimated $263 million film. Taylor Kitsch is as dull in this film as he ever was, and its rather laughable actually.
Lynn Collins leads the film with a far greater performance. Portraying Helium Princess Dejah Thoris, Lynn Collins gets deeply involved with the science fiction mythology of the story and embraces the status of her role. Building upon this, Lynn Collins makes an effort to really capture the emotionally charged state of her character as a woman troubled by the position she is put in by her father and her determination as a warrior. Lynn Collins remains active in her role in a physical and internal level, finding more depth in the role than you could expect out of any of hte characters.
Dominic West's sophisticated edge gives him a sense of charm which plays into his antagonism nicely enough for him to disguise his villainy behind it. Willem Dafoe's iconic commanding tone of voice makes him a perfect fit for Tars Tarkas, and Bryan Cranston is a genial presence in any film.
John Carter's magnificent visuals and powerful action makes it a truly entertaining science fiction adventure with enough production virtue to overcome Taylor Kitsch's bland leading performance and the script's arbitrary attempts explore political turmoil and alien culture.