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John Carter of Mars – review

When I first saw the trailer for John Carter I thought the film looked like a bomb waiting to explode on the screen.  Then I started reading a little bit more about the backstory of the film. John Carter is a series of 11 books in the Barsoom series that were written by Chicago native Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Burroughs is most well known for creating Tarzan, and many other lost world novels.  I don’t pretend to be a Burroughs expert, nor a John Carter expert for that matter, but I can appreciate Burroughs dedication to writing and science fiction.  Especially in a time before the space exploration even took off.   The novels were written between 1912 and 1948, except for a title written by Burroughs son in the 60’s.  They involve a Civil War captain who is transported to Mars through a mysterious medallion.  There he possesses super human strength and can jump football fields because of the lesser gravity.  So just reading about that started to change my mind about what the film could possibly be.

Now there is a completely new universe that is written about in the books, and multiple races that inhabit the land as well.  I’m not going to go in depth on the world Carter transverses to…that’s what Wikipedia is for.  Let’s just say the film does its best to incorporate all of the lifeforms…all of them.   The script was also written by Michael Chabon who wrote Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Ok there’s some more bonus points.   It is also being hyped as the first real science fiction series.  Before there was Star Wars, before there was Avatar, there was John Carter! This is actually the biggest problem with the film.  Those two films I mentioned, along with countless other science fiction films, have borrowed/stolen from Burroughs, and already shown us everything that John Carter has to offer on the big screen.

The film stars Taylor Kitsch, most well known and loved for his role as Tim Riggins on the show Friday Night Lights. This marks his first leading role on the big screen.  He previously had a bit part in Snakes On a Plane, and also played Gambit in X-Men Origins:Wolverine…so he’s kind of 0-2 on the big screen.  I was pulling for Kitsch to be great in this.  He’s absolutely fantastic in Friday Night Lights, but unfortunately he fails pretty miserably in John Carter.  It’s one of the worst acted films I have ever seen.  Kitsch is awful, and it kind of breaks my heart.  It doesn’t help that Lynn Collins, who plays Carter’s love interest Dejah, is equally as bad, if not worse.  They are so poorly matched up together that I felt I could have had more chemistry on the screen with a PB&J sandwich stuffed in my face, and I hate PB&J.  Kitsch stars in Battleship this summer and also Oliver Stone’s, Savages.  So hopefully John Carter doesn’t sink his career.

The film shows Carter escaping the confederate army, after going A-Wol I presume,  and somehow finding his way to Mars.  He doesn’t know how he got there, all he knows is that he wants to find a way back.  From here Carter runs in to all sorts of alien species.  He tries to figure out who is who, and learns that there is an evil man Sab Than (Dominic West), that has received a weapon of great power from a mysterious race called The Holy Therns.  Sab Than wants to rule Mars through destruction and make Dejah, the Princess of Helium, his bride.  I’m pretty sure this is the exact plot of Flash Gordon as well, but I can’t be sure because I was already confused by the dozens of alien races thrust in my face, and I also had to get up and use the bathroom.   The Holy Therns seem to be the true masters behind the destruction of Mars though.  I implore you to attempt to understand what the hell the point of The Holy Therns is, because I tried to understand who they were and what they wanted the entire movie.  It involves something about the nine points of blue light, or the ninth ray, or something like that that we never learn about.  John Carter is so confusing they should have handed out crib notes and a flash light at the beginning of the film.  I wouldn’t have been bothering anyone anyway furiously scribbling notes in the margin, because I was the only person in the theater.

Carter of course falls in love with Princess Dejah and sets out to free her from the clutches of Sab Than, restore peace to Mars, and thwart The Holy Therns in whatever the hell it is they want to do.  The only thing that I found kind of interesting is that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote himself in to the stories as the nephew of John Carter, who is entrusted with his estate, and to try and understand this great universe within the pages of Carters left behind memoirs…it doesn’t save the film from being complete crap unfortunately.

John Carter of Mars is rife with cliches.  Everything you’ve ever seen before in a sci-fi film is stuck in this puppy.  The plot line is straight from Army of Darkness even.  Carter wants to go back home, but he soon feels obligated to help the people of a dying world, unfortunately there is no dead-ites or boom-sticks to entertain you.  It even steals scenes straight from the  Star Wars Trilogy like the speeder race in Empire Strikes Back. Now again I know that Burroughs wrote this before Star Wars but we’re talking about different mediums here, and as far as the medium of film goes, we have seen this before 100 times over.  James Cameron even said that Avatar took a lot from the John Carter books.  I can appreciate the books and the history of them, and especially the time in which they were written, but there is nothing of value to take away from the film version of John Carter of Mars.  Cliched, boring and soooooooooooo long.  Avoid at all costs.

Grade: F