John Carter tries in earnest to become the next big sci-fi space opera franchise. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent creating the world of Barsoom (which is Mars; Barsoom is how the natives refer to it). Huge CGI cities dot the red planet’s landscape. A population of humans (called Red Men) lives together with a species of humanoids called the Tharks – with every character’s name seeming like it was picked blindly, letter by letter, out of a Scrabble bag. Of course the entire planet is on the brink of collapse just as our fearless hero, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) enters the scene.
Sporting just the right about of action-hero stubble, John Carter is a confederate soldier who finds himself transported to Mars while searching for gold. After being attacked by an unknown assailant, Carter clutches an amulet that the attacker is holding and whoosh he finds himself on Mars.
Carter soon finds out that he can jump higher than he ever has been able to before. Much is made of Carter’s different bone structure than the Barsoom natives, so he can do superhuman things that they can’t, but no one bothers to explain just how Carter can breathe the atmosphere of Mars. No matter, because this is an action/adventure movie so all we need to know is key details concerning the plot. Forget the scientific mumbo jumbo.
Like so many worlds which are visited in space exploration movies, Barsoom finds itself on the brink of planetary war. Factions of Red Men are fighting over the planet. An evil warlord named Sab Than (Dominic West) has come into possession of an intergalactic weapon provided to him by Matai Shang (Mark Strong) a mysterious shape-shifter with devious plans.
Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) is a princess of the city that Sab Than wants to conquer and what better way to conquer it than to forcibly take Dejah as his wife? See, even on Mars the same old cinematic stories are being told. Carter soon finds himself embroiled in the conflict of Barsoom and falling in love with the lovely Dejah.
The moment John Carter starts it’s easy to plot out the rest of the movie in your head. There’s nothing original to speak of here. The big budget special effects and action scenes are amusing, but if you’re looking for something deeper – say like the original Star Wars trilogy – you’ll find John Carter lacking.
One of the main problems with the movie is its lead. Kitsch is a soggy blanket of an actor. An actor that has watched one too many action films and has decided that, yes, all action heroes talk in a gruff gravelly voice. Only Kitsch can’t pull off the voice like Kiefer Sutherland. It’s hard not to giggle at his utterly flat-line performance. He makes Sam Worthington from Avatar look like one of the best action stars out there.
The other problem with John Carter is the same problem a lot of these sci-fi epics find themselves having. So much of the movie is spent laboriously explaining every single piece of the plot with expository dialogue that there’s no getting to know the characters. They’re simply there so they can be included in the next battle scene.
John Carter isn’t awful. Instead it’s a forgettable, big budget movie. Granted it’s easy to see where all that money was spent, but in the end you have to ask yourself, does it really matter anyway?