Disney’s John Carter is a mess right from the outset, and I’m not referring to the company’s botched marketing campaign. Opening with a dull, expository voiceover which explains that Mars aka “Barsoom” is indeed inhabited, the film is quickly bogged down by an unnecessarily convoluted and often incomprehensible plot – involving a Martian civil war, a mysterious group of holy men pulling the strings, a race of four-armed green aliens called “Tharks”, and a princess (Lynn Collins) on the run – seemingly in service of setting up a sequel. In the middle of all of this is our hero, John Carter (Talyor Kitsch), an American Civil War veteran who inexplicably finds himself transported to Mars.
If this all sounds a bit silly and pulpy, it is, and had John Carter aimed at being a fun Flash Gordon-esque B-movie adventure it would have worked better. But it also wants to be a blockbuster sci-fi epic on the scale of Star Wars and Avatar, and while Edgar Rice Burroughs’ century-old source material undoubtedly influenced each of those films, this wildly uneven adaptation mangles the tone as badly as last year’s awful Cowboys and Aliens. In his live action début, director Andrew Stanton struggles to bring the wit and awe of Finding Nemo and WALL-E to this unwieldy project, and while portions of the film are colourful and fun, the forgettable action sequences leave much to be desired (unlike Brad Bird’s terrific live action début Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol).
As a leading man, Kitsch is fine and will probably become a star regardless, but he and the talented supporting cast (Mark Strong, Dominic West, Ciarán Hinds) are sorely let down by the material, as are the voice actors (Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton) for the CGI-created Tharks, which are more Jar Jar Binks than Na’vi. It’s hard to imagine how so much could go wrong with the amount of talent involved — perhaps this project was misguided from the beginning? — but Disney are obviously going to need to take a long, hard look at how they make films after this catastrophic failure.
Watch the trailer for John Carter below.