Tuesday, June 26, 2012

John Carter

It’s hard to see John Carter in any other light than that of its current status as one of the greatest debacles in recent box office history. When financial disasters like this happen, a number of reasons both internal and external to the movie usually have a hand in the mess. Pundits are more prone to scrutinize the movie itself, which in the case of some titles—Battlefield Earth, The Adventures of Pluto Nash—can be a perfect storm of awfulness. John Carter is different, but first let’s have a look at the context to make sense of Disney’s rare box office meltdown. Aside from the marketing and release date never seeming in sync, there might also be some element story fatigue at play. Whether or not you’re familiar with the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material, considered a precursor to Star Wars and Avatar (as the advertisements reminded), you know this story well. A flawed, but good-hearted hero is transported to a foreign world and immersed in an epic struggle. In this case, civil war veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) finds himself on Mars, where he quickly becomes steeped in the politics of warring nations. Naturally, Carter picks the right side (because of a babe, primarily) and fights the noble fight, for love, honor, and redemption. Oh, and he can jump really far. Like, really far.
As the title character, Kitsch is serviceable but lacks personality. This is a problem for the whole affair, however. Excepting perhaps the Martian dog whose loyalty to Carter never wavers, John Carter oozes mediocrity. It is epic by-numbers, evoking little in the way of wonderment even as it serves up all the latest tricks in special effects. The movie fashions an expansive world, complete with numerous alien species, sprawling cities, and sleek aircraft, all rendered with detail and precision. But as I watched and thought about the countless dollars that went into each busy shot, I lamented the film’s impotence in the face of it all. The problem isn’t that we’ve seen this before, but that there is nothing to latch on to, no pop to the images and no zest to the story. That there is so much activity on screen amplifies the movie's blandness. Part of the problem is that Pixar alumnus director Andrew Stanton ostensibly took the material very seriously and wanted to make something decent out of it. If nothing else, John Carter is earnest. But because it sets its ambitions so high, the film cannot even fall under the category of a good guilty pleasure. It's stuck somewhere in between without the gusto to be either a good "bad" movie or bad "good" movie. While not actively inept enough to elicit the cheerful battering that so many other movie busts have endured over the years, John Carter in a way is worse: It is relentlessly mediocre. (Andrew Stanton, 2012) *½


Dan O. said...

Good review. Kitsch could have definitely been a little bit more charismatic but the flick still works due to amazing special effects and some really fun and exciting action. Sad thing is that this flick was made for $250 million and barely made any of it back.

Ted Pigeon said...

I wouldn't describe a rare bust from Disney as sad, but you're right in that it is almost impossible to approach this movie any other way.