John Carter (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG-13)

film john-carter smThe ex-military captain, circa the late 1800s, inexplicably finds himself on Mars after a series of events that don’t much make sense to either him or the viewer.

 

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Though I’ve never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars books, I’m aware of the respect they have in the sci-fi community. I wonder, then, how a fan of the books would take to the film John Carter, as to me it seemed to be the result of imagination-lacking producers hiring a bunch of people to make something about as similar to Avatar as they possibly could without getting sued for plagiarism.

It’s well documented at this point that I haaaated Avatar, so how would I fare with a movie that seems to be little more than a rip-off of it? John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch as the titular character, an ex-military captain circa the late 1800s who inexplicably finds himself on Mars after a series of events that don’t much make sense to either him or the viewer. On that planet, he encounters a race of 12-foot-tall green things (that don’t look too far off the blue things in Avatar, plus maybe a touch of Jar Jar Binks); learns to fly (like in Avatar, though this time on a weird little plane instead of a dragon); makes friends with an animal from this new world (here a dog-type thing; in Avatar, the aforementioned dragon); falls in love with a person of Mars (though with a human-looking thing as opposed to the green things); enjoys playing in the new gravity of Mars in a scene that recalls the first scene in Avatar where Sam Worthington plays around in his avatar body; fights big monsters; and generally frolics in an expensive 3-D world, just like in Avatar.

One thing that John Carter has on Avatar is a more likeable lead. Kitsch, though showing little to no skill as an actor here, does have more inborn charisma that Sam Worthington ever had. The female lead, Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, is functional though unmemorable, and both she and Kitsch spend most of the movie in some state of undress: she in a sci-fi nerd wet-dream glorified bikini thing, he just sans shirt. While admittedly a good way to get a lot of stupid people to like your movie, artful it is not.

To be honest, for reasons I can’t quite explain, John Carter didn’t quite get under my skin as badly as Avatar did, despite the facts that it’s essentially a rehash of the same stupid thing, and that Avatar had better special effects. Still, John Carter is poop as far as movies go, and there is no good reason to pay $13 and a headache to see it.

The most disappointing thing about it, though, is the talent behind it. The script was co-written by Mark Andrews, who is co-director of the upcoming Pixar movie Brave, and another co-writer is Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist behind the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and co-writer of the film Spider-Man 2. The last co-writer and also director here is Andrew Stanton, previously known as the single best director at Pixar (which is basically a team of great directors); Stanton is the man behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E (both as director and co-writer) as well as being co-writer on most of Pixar’s earliest films, such as the first two Toy Story movies. He doesn’t have the luck here that another Pixar director, Brad Bird, had with his first foray into directing live action: last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. While many lamented last summer’s Cars 2 as being the point where Pixar started going downhill, I’d be more worried at this point about them losing their most talented directors to dopey live-action films such as this one. | Pete Timmermann

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