Movie Monday – John Carter [of Mars]


No spoilers, I promise. Not least because I think you should go see this movie. In the RCM rating scale, this rates “Full price ticket, worth the extra for 3D.” 


Here are the short review, before I wax all thinky about character and genre and stuff: This is a really entertaining movie, visually stunning, and damned fun to watch. 
  1. Exciting stuff happens right away. Airship battle within the first minute. Awesome. 
  2. The (important) characters are really likable. Some of the others aren’t really fleshed out, but who cares. (More on that in a minute.)
  3. The script was nicely written, turning a couple of expectations upside down now and then. For a story that basically set the formula for this sort of movie, that was nice. 
  4. There are beautiful people in this movie. And they’re not wearing much clothes. And weirdly, that wasn’t cheesy or skeevy. It makes perfect sense. 
  5. Beautiful includes the Tharks, the nine-foot tall, green, six-limbed race of desert dwellers. They were so expressive, they could have flown them here from Mars and I wouldn’t have been surprised. 
  6. Dejah Thores. She’s the precursor of Princess Leia in the books. In the movie she’s just the coolest heroine ever. 
Could you pick apart this movie? Probably, if you worked at it. But why would you do that? This isn’t a Serious Movie of Great Cultural significance. (Except maybe to SciFi nerd culture, of which I am a member.)  Personally, I’m glad it’s not. I would LOVE to see more movies of this type and less dark, angsty depressing things. 

Just go. It’s a terrifically fun movie. (More ramblings about character and genre and stuff below this picture of aforementioned beautiful people.)  

Now, the longer post that I wrote first, then decided it was a little thinky and long. But hey, maybe you’re trying to kill time until your coffee break. 
Okay, some of you know, I’ve been looking forward to the John Carter [of Mars] movie for a long time. Like, before it was even greenlit. (Greenlighted?) I think I covered some of the reasons in a previous post, but basically the John Carter of Mars books (along with the Danny Dunn Mysteries and A Wrinkle in Time) were my introduction to science fiction. 
Basically, they were pulp fiction, which meant they were highly creative and entertaining reads that required a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. There’s internal logic and consistency, but you have to go with the flow that this guy is transported to Mars without really understanding why. 
And that’s exactly how this movie is. Highly entertaining, with interesting people who do interesting stuff.
The characters are engaging, though some are given more dimension than others.  Likewise, the different cultures of Mars (their politics, sociologies, ideologies) are only touched on, not explored. But you do get a sense that there IS a culture there, except that we’re too busy action/adventuring to delve into it. 
Which is as it should be. John Carter has a lot to accomplish in this movie. He’s a cool character with a good backstory for his baggage, and his job is to do stuff. Manly stuff, wearing little clothes and wielding big weapons. (I’m not mocking. All the actors fully commit to this basic, intrinsic concept of the genre, which makes it come off as truly badass.) 
His other job is to be there to interact with the more interesting characters in the movie: the Tharks (a tall, green, six-limbed desert-dwelling race) including Tars Tarkas and Sola, his allies, and Dejah Thores, the most awesome awesome action hero I’ve seen in ages. 
Dejah Thores, in the books, is the ancestress of Princess Leia. Even though her plot function is to be rescued, she’s also an intelligent and competent woman in her own right.
In the movie… She’s just flat out awesome. She’s a brilliant scientist, as self-sacrificing princess, a fierce rebel and warrior, and a slyly intelligent operative–not in her own interest, but with the goal of saving her city, and the whole planet. John Carter is really likable with his aw-shucks genteelism and rebel spirit. But honestly… He’s not that complex. I don’t think that’s a flaw of the moviemakers. I think that’s just the character.
Maybe Im giving too much credit here, but I don’t think so. The screenwriters have an impressive pedigree (including Michael Chabon, Pulitzer prize winning novelist who gets SciFi’s pulp heritage).  I simply love that they inverted the pulp expectation. John Carter is a likable rogue who runs on emotion and muscle, and the “chick” is brilliant and complex. 
I know Disney dropped the “of Mars” from the title because they didn’t want to alienate (ha ha) people who think SciFi is for nerds. (Even though the same people who think that will go so see The Avengers and The Hunger Games which are both–wait for it–SciFi.)  And I think that it’s SciFi pedigree might be why it didn’t do so well on opening weekend. That and reviewers who can’t just enjoy a movie for what it is without trying to make it what it’s not. Not every genre movie has to be The Dark Knight. 
Anyway. Back to genre books and suspension of disbelief. 
In genre books (Mystery, Romance, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels… Basically everything segregated from the mainstream “Fiction” shelves in the bookstore) I think there is a contract between the reader and the writer. The writer asks the reader to believe one impossible thing, and in exchanges promises that everything else will make sense if you just go with that. 

And there’s the writer’s obligation no matter what the genre: Provide internal consistency and interesting people doing interesting things. 
This movie definitely does that. Go see it and give SciFi nerd history some love. 
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6 thoughts on “Movie Monday – John Carter [of Mars]

  1. Despite occasional moments of silliness, the old-fashioned sense of adventure and brilliantly rendered aliens elevate this above other derivative big-budget sci-fi fare. I still wished that Kitsch did a lot better in this lead role but he was only there for eye-candy really. Good review. What also stinks is that this flick probably won’t make back any of its 250 million dollar budget. Give my review a look when you can.

  2. I like that. Old fashioned sense of adventure. I did check out your review, and left my comments there. I can't argue your point about Kitsch, but as I noted, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. He was pretty and likable, two important things for this sort of movie.

  3. Nice review. I like to say I've been waiting for this movie for forty years, it didn't disappoint me, I loved the move and I adore the new improved Dejah Thoris.

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