Sunday, March 11, 2012

Movie Review: "John Carter" by Alex Schopp

I just got back from seeing "John Carter", and I have my qualms with it, but overall, it's the easy-going kind of afternoon action/adventure movie that you can really sit back and enjoy.

"John Carter" is actually a very interesting tale, albeit a very commonly told one. Probably the most interesting aspect of it to me is that it actually took place in the 1800's here on earth. In the midst of a full planetary war on Mars, back on earth we were completely unfamiliar with the alien planet, and just getting over a war of our own. The title character, John Carter, played by Taylor Kitsch, is a man that was just plain born to fight. On our planet he was a highly decorated soldier with a never-give-up mentality. Upon an unlikely encounter, he is suddenly transported to the planet Mars, where he's thrown right back into the middle of another fight. At first he is simply captured and taken as prisoner, but after countless escapes, he soon runs into the Princess of one colony who is in desperate need of a savior. Luckily, Carter steps up to the plate and helps defend the dying race from a man with powers from the Gods, threatening to destroy it all.

There is actually quite a bit more of subtext in that summary than what I put above. There's a pretty decent story-line about Carter and how he lost his humanity during the war back home, and ultimately, through this fight that he had no stake in, finds himself again. It's really the most touching aspect of the entire film, which, not surprisingly, isn't filled with too much character depth and emotion.

The big show-off of this movie though is its effects. Not since "Avatar" have I seen a world brought to life so fully. While many of the landscapes were barren and dry, they were still vast and beautifully defined. And some of the shots of the main city, Helium, were magnificent. All of the different alien species were great as well. While one of the main races were pretty much just humans with tattoos, the other, with it's leader voiced/motion-captured by Willem Dafoe, was completely alien in nature, and came off very approachable - meaning I never felt like Carter was interacting with computer images.

Kitsch himself does a good job as the inter-planetary warrior too. Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy, and they do find ways to sneak in little, unnecessary jokes every now and then, but overall, I was happy with his work. The only thoughts I ever had while watching him were that I bet Timothy Olyphant wishes he were about 15 years younger - the part so would have been his (if you haven't seen the movie yet, when you do, you won't be able to help but think these two are long-lost twins).

The story has been very over-worked for sure, but that doesn't make it bad. Just as "Avatar" had to fight-off arguments of the same nature, this movie might have to as well. And just as with "Avatar", I'll defend this one too. No, it's not telling a groundbreaking story, but that's not the point. It's not what story is told, it's how it's told. Plus this movie is based off of source material much older than any of the movies that seem to get credit for first for using this story arc. John Carter, the character, made his first appearance in a magazine serial in 1912 - so if anything, we can probably say that movies like "Avatar" and "Dances with Wolves" stole their story-line from this.

Overall, this movie ended up doing just about what I've recently expected of it. It was incredibly fun. The visuals were awesome and the battle scenes were really cool. The movie never really captured my heart or anything, but I think if I was familiar with the source material, that may be much different (by the way, if anyone who's reading this has read any of the original 'John Carter' stuff, I'd love to hear your comments below on what you thought of this. Does it stay pretty true to itself?). For me, I went in looking for a good time, and that's exactly what I got. Did I leave with any sort of profound thoughts on the film or the genre? Not really. The story itself is light-hearted in nature and very easy to digest. Upon future viewings, I may end up complaining slightly that it's a tad too long for it's own good - while with my first viewing I was happy to take everything in, I can see some of the middle character definition stuff bogging it down a little. And without the help of 3D, it may lose some of its luster as well.

I cringe slightly at the fact that this movie has a projected $250MM budget, and, as you'll see a little later in my Weekend Box Office post, it only put together a $30MM opening weekend - not what you'd like to see from a film with a budget of this magnitude. So unfortunately, this film will probably go down as a huge failure on the industry side of things, but luckily, I'm not financially attached to it at all, so that's really not my problem. You can see in every scene all of the money that they put into it, and in my opinion it was well worth it.

I would say, especially right now, in a weaker film market, make time to go see this movie. It's a bit lengthy and I can imagine it might not hold up too well in future home viewings, but for this time of year, in theaters, it's good for at least one watch. It's enjoyable and fun to look at, and as long as you're not trying to get too much out of it, you should be able to leave fulfilled.