Review: John Carter

Where to begin when discussing Andrew Stanton’s (Wall-E) first foray into live-action filmmaking, John Carter? I could start by saying it is a hopelessly muddled, and egregiously confusing film that I have no problem in admitting left me utterly lost. Maybe start by waxing comical on the film’s ambitious, yet ultimately flat visual style with little resembling a unique, original vision. Perhaps I could be simple–something this film never is–and just start at the beginning.

Confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) is grieving the loss of his wife and child and–wait for it–gets magically transported to Mars! I’m not sure what either event has to do with each other, but just go with me, okay? Once on Mars, John Carter must… well, I think he helps recruit a civilisation of incredibly tall aliens to help defeat a power-hungry villain who is aiming to destroy all life on the fourth planet from the sun. I’m merely taking a guess as to the plot because I honestly didn’t understand much of this bloated 132-minute plastic visual effects reel. The population of Mars have their own languages and words, so when combined with villains and heroes who wear the same clothing (there’s even a joke late in the film saying as much) and an internal logic that is meant to be profound, but winds up silly, makes for a very discombobulating experience. Remember how nobody had any idea what the third Matrix film was on about? John Carter is all that and more.

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) battle on Mars

Even if Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 11-volume series is adapted by its three screenwriters into a nonsensical mess, then it should at least be a visual feast, right? Hardly. Replicating the shiny, but phony, visual style of George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, John Carter never develops any real sense of scope and wonder. Shot partially on the terrain of Utah, you’d hardly be able to tell it wasn’t just a green screen standing in for the harsh intergalactic landscapes. Everything up to and including the heavily digitalised horizons look as manufactured as Kitsch’s biceps as he bellows ridiculously labourious dialogue in between action sequences that have little kinetic energy and make no spatial sense.

Sola (Samantha Morton) is a rebellious extra terrestrial

As the love interest, Princess Dejah Thoris, Lynn Collins (Wolverine) gets a few moments of worth, but her incredibly pretty Xena routine ends up on a long list of false notes that includes a wasted Ciarán Hinds (The Debt) and useless 3D that never once appears as anything other than dim 2D. If the film has one truly remarkable aspect it’s the performance of Samantha Morton (Minority Report) as Mars native Sola. Another notch in the feather cap of motion capture, as her soulful performance shines through her extra terrestrial appearance.

John Carter is released nationally on 8 March (inc. IMAX)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Dominic West, James Purefoy and Bryan Cranston