John Carter (2012)

Our review of the long-awaited (by some of us) adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs ‘ A Princess of Mars. Good news is: it comes to us from the director of Wall-E and writer of all three Toy Stories. Bad news is: he still works for Disney.



12 responses to “John Carter (2012)”

  1. David Lee Ingersoll Avatar

    Yup. It’s good. As you say, not great, but hell, good is a damned sight better than most $250 million movies manage to achieve. No, there will never be a sequel to this movie, but, considering the support it got, that’s okay. Better one good movie than a good movie with a bunch of terrible sequels.

    1. David DeMoss Avatar
      David DeMoss

      The Nightbreed and/or Buckaroo Banzai fans might have something to say about that last statement. Hell, with Stanton at the helm, I figure they’ve got at least one more good one in ’em before they all reach Point Spider-Man and start getting sick of the jobs. But he’s back down in the dungeons, working on Toy Story 4. Because 4th entries in long-running, fan-favorite franchises always turn out to be awesome…right? Right.

  2. RogerBW Avatar

    Pretty much echoing my own views here. I read the books a few years back and enjoyed them; I found the CGI pretty unconvincing; and while there’s a certain amount of ripping off the visual styles of things like Star Wars, what the hell, at least there’s no cute alien muppet for the kiddies to Identify With. This is overstretch I can live with.

    The odd thing for me is how much and how quickly the “worst film ever” comments started to come out – just as soon as the opening weekend totals were in. I assume Disney couldn’t move fast enough in avoiding any possible blame attaching to its holy marketing department. Compared, indeed, with Mars Needs Moms – which was still a flop, but doesn’t seem to have been a career brick wall for anyone the way this has become for Stanton and even Kitsch.

    1. David DeMoss Avatar
      David DeMoss

      I’m pretty sure Simon Wells already hit his career brick wall (and gave himself a clinical case of exhaustion) back in 2002 when he made that year’s Time Machine remake. He spent the rest of the 2000s in Dreamworks’ storyboard department, which makes me think Mars Needs Moms was his big, fat Second Chance. And despite blowing it rumors say his next movie will be a thriller starring…Hayden Christensen. Which is either a reward or a punishment. Though I suppose it could be both.

      Stanton’s in a similar position. No one at Pixar’s dumb enough to break up the Toy Story team, especially not with John Lasseter as Disney’s “chief creative officer.” (And thank Issus their coup was successful.) And in a three years we’ll all get to “enjoy” his next directorial effort: Finding Nemo 2. Because that needed to be made…

      It seems to me that once your movie flops the studio presents you with a minimum three options. 1) Go back to your old job, assuming you had one, and maybe they’ll give you another shot once someone purges middle management and all the people who greenlit your last flop leave, taking their bad memories with them. 2) Direct this shameless cash-in sequel/remake/thing with a recognizable name that’s guaranteed to turn a profit, if only because of recognition. This would explain the careers of, say, Peter Berg. Outright firing (which would be Option 3) is a rare and special thing to see these days. Despite the accounting department’s carping, it’s nearly impossible for a single film to put any appreciable dent in the Big Six. We’ve gone 30 years without another Heaven’s Gate, and everyone’s looking to keep it that way. And in a world where Disney recouped whatever John Carter cost in less than a weekend thanks to The Avengers, calling it a flop is pretty meaningless….unless you work inside the Mouse House, deep down in the unglamorous bowls where the real decisions are made. So I think you’re right: complaining loudly, and often, about how much money this thing lost was a purely political gambit. Hopefully it saved someone’s (or a lot of someones’) job(s).

      1. RogerBW Avatar

        I agree with you on the options: there’s never a shortage of generic cash-ins that need to be made, and I can see even a great director going for it sometimes if he needs to get himself back to where he can have a bit of independence on the project he really cares about. (I’m more puzzled by something like Movie 43, which seems to include all sorts of actors I’d have thought wouldn’t have any interest in such a project.)

        Sadly, I think the real legacy of John Carter for the next few years will be an avoidance of properties that haven’t been filmed before and of thinky sci-fi, and even more pressure for sequels, sci-fi action and marketable names.

  3. Charles Phipps Avatar

    Wow, you are way kinder to the John Carter movie than me. My description of the movie boils down to watching two hours of money burning.

    I’m not a huge-huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs but I *AM* a fan. I’ve read “A Princess of Mars” and can pretty much summarize why this movie is a poor adaptation, poor movie in its own right, and even a poor planetary romance. John Carter is a miserable human being in a story all about wonder, amazement, and discovering your inner awesome. He’s the inspiration for Flash Gordon and Superman AND Star Wars.

    John Carter isn’t a DEEP character but he DOES have character. He’s a human dynamo of competence, the best swordsman on two worlds, and a guy who is already immortal by the time he’s journeying into Outer Space via astral projection.

    The movie makes him a dreary traumatized war veteran who is no more interested in the spectacular event which has happened to him than he is the beautiful princess he’s ostensibly supposed to fall in love with.

    In real-life, the Confederacy was the most evil government in the world (even by the standards of its time), its constitution flat out spelling out it existed for the purposes of subjugating the Negro. South apologism is still at work today and in Burroughs work, he was meant to be a gentleman and an officer. Somehow, we’ve got the worst of both worlds where he’s a aimless drifter yet unrepentent about serving a government designed to keep people in bondage.

    Which, short version, means the irony of a Confederate officer freeing a world kept in slavery is completely lost. Worse, for the most expensive movie of all time, I don’t see it. The effects are poor, the fights uninteresting, and the acting bland.

    Sorry, I just didn’t like it.

    1. David DeMoss Avatar
      David DeMoss

      No need to apologize; it’s not my movie, no matter how much I might like it. And speaking of Southern Apologism – the image of the Confederate veteran as an ever-competent, ever-noble Officer and Upstanding Gentleman is, to my mind, an even more pernicious and evil stereotype, grown out of the personality cults of famous generals and the paternalistic quasi-feudalism that still rules their region today. I don’t see how propping up the ghost of a Robert E. Lee stereotype (and having Gambit try to act that, something I’m not sure he has the chops for) would’ve helped.

      Besides, Hollywood Marketeers are convinced (thanks to their oh-so-scientific Test Audience sampling procedures) that Miserable Bastard is The Audience’s new collective Self-Image. Seeing confident, competent people doing things that actually matter just makes “us, The Audience” feel bad, because (and here I’m speculating) we no longer use such examples as effective patterns for action in our own lives. Taking them apart and applying them to real-world contexts must sound like too much work. Instead, we see someone doing something that actually matters, feel jealous, and become even more Miserable, since we’re so often denied the chance to do something similar in the grim, slow-motion, Corporate Apocalypse that passes for most of our lives.

      But, then again, what does Hollywood know? No one there with any real access to money (and thus: power) has the balls to really explore other historical eras, except in the most didactic and boring (i.e., salable) manner. Compare 1987’s Lincoln mini-series to Spielberg’s tepid, stodgy, “masterpiece” from last year and you can see the life and vigor drain from our collective vision of the past. The entire issue is, wonder of all wonders, too much of a hot-button for mainstream movies to tackle, or even approach…unless you just don’t give a fuck, like Tarantino. Gore Vidal expressed the problem a decade before he died, basically boiling it down to, “People in the past were different from us, yo.” And nothing turns producers off like the whiff of something “different.” That’s why Carter stole Jonah Hex’s dead family, and why Kitsch took all his acting pages from the Stoic Everyman’s Playbook by Bruce “Motherfucking” Willis (with annotations by Sly Stallone).

      So yeah, much as I liked the movie, I can totally see where you’re coming from. Though the irony of a Confederate officer freeing a world from slavery certainly wasn’t lost on me. And it’s much more important I get it than Dotar Sojat.

  4. Charles Phipps Avatar

    Thanks for responding, I love you bother to do this and your write-ups are always as in-depth as your reviews.

    You rock, sir.

    The Ghost of Robert E. Lee wouldn’t have helped the film save for the context that’s who John Carter *is* to me. It’s sort of like the fact Ra’s Al Ghul is the Arabic Fu Manchu. You can change who the character is but if you forget that unfortunate legacy, you sort of lose a lot of the story. “Jonah Hex” was a godawful movie but at least was entertaining. I liked Jonah Hex the character, ridiculous as his movie was, because he had a REASON to have an enormous chip on his shoulder. Everyone in the Post-Civil War Union was an asshole and BY GOD he knew it.

    For me, my problem with this movie’s John Carter is that I didn’t buy his reaction. I didn’t need much to sell him but for a man completely broken by fate, the option of starting over on a world where he wasn’t weighed down by a Union he hates or people he loathes would be appealing. Yet, John Carter fights it damn near the entire movie. He wants to return to his cave of gold to continue living on a planet he loathes.

    I guess what I’m saying is, for me, this movie needed to believe a man could jump Hella High and that there’s a Kingdom on Mars we’d all like to escape to. As *MUCH* as I had a problem with it, Avatar is the “real” A Princess of Mars to me.

    1. David DeMoss Avatar
      David DeMoss

      Ooo-ooo…that last sentence…them’s fightin’ words. I CLAIM THE RIGHT OF CHALLENGE!

      But seriously: should they, then, have stolen even more from Hex then they already did? To me, wanting to get rich off mostly-legendary Arizona gold seems as valid a reaction to everyone being an asshole as becoming a bounty hunter and shacking up with Megan Fox. Just because you loathe the place doesn’t mean you want to leave it. In fact, leaving it creates its own problem, because wherever you go, there you are. And if you’re this John Carter, that means you’re pretty thick.

  5. Charles Phipps Avatar

    [But seriously: should they, then, have stolen even more from Hex then they already did? To me, wanting to get rich off mostly-legendary Arizona gold seems as valid a reaction to everyone being an asshole as becoming a bounty hunter and shacking up with Megan Fox. Just because you loathe the place doesn’t mean you want to leave it. In fact, leaving it creates its own problem, because wherever you go, there you are. And if you’re this John Carter, that means you’re pretty thick.]

    No, I don’t think they should have chosen to steal more from Jonah Hex. Though, frankly, I felt more heat from Megan Fox than Wolverine’s wife. Which is sad because she really is a pretty lady but the illusive chemistry never really manifested for me. You may disagree. But to answer your question, I think they should have stolen more from Star Wars.

    A planetary romance is a classic heroes journey. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Mario (game not movie), and that irritating Jake Sully character are brave strong Earthmen to rescue the natives from themselves. Even the Dolph Lungren He-man movie gets it right in reverse. It’s a fish out of water story.

    For me, I suppose the issue was that I wanted a classic fairy tale and they felt the need to mess with it a little too much. I may have been too hard on the movie but for John Carter, Warlord of Mars (which is what they SHOULD have called the damn movie) I wanted them to play it straight. Not only straight but PAINFULLY straight.

    To each their own.

    1. David DeMoss Avatar
      David DeMoss

      Indeed, though I appreciate what you’re asking for. I’ve asked them to do the same with a giant monster movie for years, even though only Japan dares give it to me, and not nearly as often as they once did. My feelings on Masters of the Universe aside, there’s much to be said for that when it’s done right. My favorite version of Wonder Woman (2009’s straight-to-DVD version) uses the template as a perfect excuse to retell her origins, and have the God of War attack Washington D.C.

  6. Charles Phipps Avatar

    I don’t know if you reviewed that one but you should. Sadly, it’s not one of my favorites of the DCU’s animated canon (due to sexism) but it’s also one of the few attempts to actually treat Diana of Paradise Island seriously. Anyway, thanks for talking to me.

    Great points as always. Can’t wait for your Iron Man 3 review.

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