I say this not because it was poorly made. This film has very quality moments and the special effects are top notch. However, the way the film is executed is purposefully ridiculous making it a dumb film.
John Carter was made with the intent of being so bland and devoid of any level of depth while touching on all tones and genres tropes in hopes of hitting every demographic. I can only assume the mouse-eared chains of Disney kept most of the substance from reaching the light of day on this project.
The story kicks off days after John Carter’s death *wink* *wink* and his nephew, Juni Cortez, is being escorted through Carter’s mansion to the main office where he finds out he has been given Carter’s fortune and his personal journal. Intrigued by his mysterious uncle, Juni reads the book.
It is at this point that the true story of John Carter starts. John is a Civil War vet who finds a cave a of gold. Once in the cave he comes across a pale otherworldly dressed individual who he makes quick work of despite this guy having telekinesis and pretty much being a god, but more on that later. John takes a look at the mysterious individual’s necklace when in his dying words, the individual was nice enough to give John a bouncing ball guide to teleporting himself to the dying planet of Mars, or as the locals call it, Barsoom.
Next thing you know, John is on Mars with some nifty new skills like heightened jumping abilities and added durability due to fictional science so don’t bother questioning anything. John Carter runs into some green aliens led for the moment *wink* *wink* by Willem Dafoe who against the wannabe gritty tone plays his character with all the intensity of an Albert Brook-voiced sidekick from a Pixar movie. The clashing of tones in this movie are almost as frustrating as the movie’s determination to not explain anything which brings me to the villians(?) of the movie, the Therns. For those who haven’t seen the movie, these are the pale bald guys from the previews. These guys can jump from world to world and carry weaponry that exceed all others on Mars. Therns also know everything, can use their minds to move objects, can be fairly easily killed, likened themselves to be guardians watching over the natural order of things, yet actively disrupt progress at times, but more on that later, we still have the civilized people of the struggling city Helium to talk about.
The human-like citizens of Helium are led by a general, or Jeddak, who’s name like most the movie is needlessly more complex than it has to be. The Jeddak has a brilliant and beautiful daughter who discovered a way to save the planet which is promptly ruined by a Thern in disguise. She is then promptly pimped out by her Jeddak father as an exchange for a peaceful resolution with a rival civilization. The Princess, in true Disney princess fashion, runs away and immediately bumps into John Carter and the rest is plain, plain, so very plain history.
John Carter had everything at its disposal and did it’s best to use every resource for the wrong reasons. Characters that should be downplayed are emphasized while characters that should be important (dead wife and child maybe) are cryptically hinted at, sub plots that don’t need to be there are inserted, and overly complicated plans are clumsily executed. I will say that the ending is pretty cool and Juni Cortez’s overwhelmed and confused face is funny too. The actors all do their jobs well enough. The problem is that the writing had so little substance that I’m pretty sure no one, including Kitsch himself, felt like there was much beneath the surface of their characters.
Honestly though, for all the crap I’ve talked, John Carter does its job. Just barely, but still it entertains. However, I can confidently say that I could never see myself investing in a franchise worth of Mr. Carter’s martian adventures.