John Carter (2012)

Rating: C-

Dir: Andrew Stanton
Star: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong

I’m currently reading a book which suggests that the reason this movie flopped, was a massive marketing failure by Disney. If there’s probably some truth to that, it certainly doesn’t help that this is a bloated and largely uninteresting work, with an uncharismatic lead, that generates little sense of drama. Carter (Kitsch) is an American soldier who, at the end of the Civil War or so, finds himself transported to Mars and dropped in the middle of another internecine battle, between Helium and Zodanga. Carter joins the camp of the former and their princess Dejah Vu, sorry, Thoris (Collins), and… Stuff happens. Large amounts of it.

The problem is, while it is all certainly a spectacle, and the visual side is thoroughly impressive (with the exception of some remarkably-bad shots of Carter leaping vast distances through the air, due to the lower gravity), there is no sense of heart, and that’s a surprise, considering Stanton was able make an animated garbage disposal unit utterly lovable in Wall-E. He is unable to do the same for his hero here. Another issue is that the ideas and concepts originally invented by Edgar Rice Burroughs have been strip-mined as inspiration for just about every SF film-maker from Lucas to Cameron. While Burroughs may have been first, any number of elements here, cinematically, come across as rip-offs of previous movies, from Flash Gordon to Prince of Persia. There are also the Tharks, a four-armed race of CGI creations who play an important part in proceedings.

But as with the Navi in Avatar, the look basically identical (almost as if someone had used copy-paste in their software), which muddies the narrative hopelessly and renders any emotional attachment difficult at best. There’s no doubt the $250 million budget is up on the screen, yet Stanton’s lack of experience at directing live-action is all too apparent. He’d probably have been better off cutting his teeth on something smaller-scale, rather than flinging himself off the 10m-board into the deep end of the blockbuster pool, because what we have here consists of rather more flailing than any smooth backstroke.