FlixChatter Review: John Carter (2012)

This is one of those movies I just didn’t really care for from the first time I heard about it, and the trailer didn’t really convince me otherwise. But my hubby really wanted to see it and I must admit I became more curious after reading some positive reviews, such as this one from my pal Terrence.

Just as I enjoyed Hunger Games more having read the book, perhaps it would’ve helped me understand the film better if I had done the same here. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure novel was apparently massively popular and the story has inspired many filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. I heard some reviews that says the movie is ripping off Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, etc., when in fact, it’s really the other way around. Even the filmmakers themselves, even the creator of Superman, admitted that they were inspired by Burroughs’ work. Why they didn’t leverage that point in the film’s marketing is beyond me. This article even cited George Lucas describing described his Star Wars story as being set “in the grand tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.” 

It’s the kind of review where I have to turn to Wikipedia to make sure I get the details right. The story takes place in the late 1800. Former Civil War captain John Carter somehow ended up in a cave of gold whilst on the run from a group of Cavalry officers and Apache Indians. It’s there that he encountered a strange figure whose medallion accidentally teleported him all the way to Mars. In the intro, it’s explained that Mars (called Barsoom by the inhabitants) is not a “dead planet”, but rather a dying one inhabited by warring civilizations with great airships.

The various ethnic groups of Mars

There are the four-armed green Martians called the Tharks, a White Martian called Therns and the two Red Martians cities Helium and Zodangas whose natives are akin to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings in that they’re full of beautiful people (hello James Purefoy!), except they’ve got a natural tan. So basically John goes from one civil war on earth, to another epic one in a distant planet.

In the book, apparently John Carter is described as an immortal being. I can’t remember the movie depicting him that way but for sure he’s got some great powers due to his high bone density and the planet’s low gravity (not sure how the science works out but hey, it’s a fantasy film so certain suspension of disbelief comes with the territory). What I didn’t realize from the trailer laden with strange-looking creatures like the great white apes etc., is that John Carter has got a love story at the heart of it. John Carter meets Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a stunning but rebellious Princess of Helium who’s apparently also a scientist (take that Dr. Christmas Jones!) It’s utterly predictable that they both would fall in love, though of course they still have to banter with each other first (a la Princess Leia and Han Solo and Na’vi Princess Neytiri and Jake Sully in Avatar).

This movie was declared a major box office bomb even by Disney itself. I think having seen it now, I gather that poor marketing was largely to blame for it. Sure, the reviews weren’t stellar, but it’s not terrible either with about 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are far, far worse films have made way more money than this, just look at those Transformer flicks! So perhaps it’s just really poor timing that this movie came out after 50 years of similarly-themed sci-fi movies have been released, which makes it ironically derivative.

In any case, I actually quite enjoyed this film. Actor Dominic West (who played Zodangas’ leader) told BBC  that “… the story sometimes difficult to follow, but I don’t think it was boring.” I think I’d agree with him. Though there are some slow parts and the pacing could be much improved, there are a lot to appreciate here. The movie kept me engaged for the most part, and the action scenes with all the weird-looking creatures actually don’t dominate the movie the way the trailers make it out to be. The visuals are marvelous to look at, what with all the meticulously-crafted spaceships and other flying objects.The action sequences are pretty fun to watch, though very reminiscent of The Phantom Menace especially in the pod-racer scenes.

I’d guess that a lot of the $250-million budget goes to the set pieces as there isn’t any big-name actors in the movie. The world that director Andrew Stanton built are a dazzling technical achievement, but the main problem for me is the pacing, just like any piece of music relies on good rhythm. It’s too bad because the story itself is quite engaging, and no surprise there considering Stanton has written and directed Pixar’s masterpieces like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall*E.

Lastly, the cast turns out to be a pleasant surprise. I was quite harsh on Taylor Kitsch initially as I was unimpressed with his performance in Wolverine, but he actually makes for a pretty convincing lead here. He’s got the looks (and a nice, deep voice), as well as confidence to pull off a heroic role. Another Wolverine alum Lynn Collins is all right as the Princess, she’s obviously beautiful but can also be pretty bad ass in the action sequences. Both of them are not as experienced as the rest of the supporting cast but they’re more than serviceable I think.

The rest of the supporting cast are largely British except for the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston as the leader of the Cavalry that pursued Carter. Both Mark Strong and Dominic West are in familiar territory playing unsympathetic characters, but at least they do it well. Interesting to see James Purefoy and Ciarán Hinds revisiting their Julius Caesar and Mark Antony roles in HBO’s Rome as their characters remind me so much of the historical duo. Purefoy seems to have the most fun here, I just wish he had a bigger role in the movie.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I was able to catch this movie on the big screen before its last week of its theatrical run. I do think it looks marvelous visually and overall a pretty entertaining fare that’s worth at least a matinee price. Definitely check this out if you’re a fan of the fantasy sci-fi genre. I skipped the 3D though, and I don’t think it’ll add that much to the movie.
four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels

Thoughts about this movie? Do you have a theory why it flopped at the box office?

54 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: John Carter (2012)

  1. Ted S.

    This is probably a rental for me when I’m super bore, I have zero interest in it, maybe I’ll just rent it when I need to show off my home theater system to some friends hasn’t seen my mini theater yet.

    The reason why it tanked is like you said, it came out way too late, most people have seen this type of film before many times, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are some examples. I know it’s been in development hell for years but I think had it come out in the late 90s or early 2000s, it might’ve been a big hit. Look no further than Lord of the Rings, it was something sort of new and most people haven’t seen any like it yet.

    Today’s movie audiences are very hard to impress, you can’t just show them special effects and big action scenes and expect them to run to the theater to go see your films.

    I feel bad for Taylor Kitsch, he has another big budget special effects heavy film coming out next month and I believe that one will also tank.

    1. Yeah I think if it came out earlier it definitely could’ve been a hit. It’s too bad that people think of this as being derivative as the original work actually inspired a ton of the films you mentioned, well aside from LOTR as those books came before it.

      The thing is Ted, this movie is not all about big special effects. In fact, as I’m watching it, I didn’t feel bombarded by SFX or one action sequence after another. I think the trailers make it seem like it’s an all action movie and full of weird looking monsters. I do think people already make up their mind about this movie before seeing it, but they might be pleasantly surprised when they see it.

      After seeing this, I think Kitsch’s got potential. But no, I still won’t see Battlefield.

    1. Y’know, when I tweeted it after I saw the movie, seems like a lot more people like this. That goes to show that a sucky trailer doesn’t mean a bad movie, like your theory right matey?

      1. Paula

        There’s at least five of us LOL My hubby & I liked it too. I think its failure was a combination of poor marketing, starting to sell it too late, and people trashing it without seeing it. I think it may be possible for it to have a second chance on DVD/Blu-ray. JMO 🙂

  2. Wow 4 reels! I’m still not convinced enough to catch it in the cinema though I’m sure this is the best plave to see it. I didn’t like the trailer but seeing as it seemed like no one did, I will give this a go when it comes out for rental! The first 10 mins went online somewhere and that looked entertaining enough.

    1. I’m not convincing enough for you Pete? 🙂 Y’know I was like you too, if it weren’t for my hubby wanting to see it, I probably would wait for rental. But I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, that first 10 mins when he was still on earth was good, it came a little too late though as people were already unimpressed by the trailers.

  3. Shame that it isn’t doing too well at the box-office. I didn’t think it was great, but entertaining enough for me too look forward to more films from the franchise. That might not happen now.

    1. Hi Asrap, baru sadar sy kalo kamu orang Indo 🙂 Yeah I don’t think there’ll be any sequels to this. I don’t necessarily look forward to ’em, but I do think people should give this movie a chance and set aside their preconception.

  4. I wouldn’t say it flopped, since the film earned almost 200 hundred million around the world and the budget wasn’t as high as the word goes…. It wasn’t successful enough due to evil fanboys who trashed it months and months before it even premiered and due to bad marketing. I remember how angry I was for Disney not releasing anything on the film until few month before the premiere. Such big movies need hype years before their release.
    The consolation is that everyone adores the film and gives it amazing reviews.

    1. Ted S.

      Well Dez when Disney admitted that they lost $200mil on this film, I think it’s official that it was a flop. 🙂

    2. That’s right Dezzy, the studio itself admits that it’s not a success. But at least we agree the marketing was bad. It’s baffling to me as Disney did a good job marketing The Muppets!

  5. impsndcnma

    I never could write a review on John Carter. I just thought it was too middle of the road. I’m glad you were able to see it on the big screen and enjoy it though. I’m sure it will have a long life on Netflix or HBO.

    1. I feel compelled to write a review as I felt totally different about it before I saw the film. I certainly wouldn’t mind renting it again when it’s out on BD.

  6. Interesting that enjoyed John Carter that much although not that surprising. It looks like a pretty decent movie, just very badly marketed. I look forward to checking it out when it makes it on Netflix 😀

    1. Indeed Castor, more than decent actually. I’d say it’s actually a good movie. Btw, did you get your BD player yet? The visuals would look great on Blu-ray.

  7. PrairieGirl

    Well, Flixy, you know I’m with ya when you say you wish James Purefoy had a bigger role in JC. I ALWAYS wish JP had bigger roles! :-O Will catch this when it comes around on DVD…

      1. PrairieGirl

        I’m glad JPs natural exuberance comes through on screen. If you saw the red carpet JC premier interview with him you’d see he is naturally just one big bundle of laughter and joy. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s about the hunkiest hunk you’ll ever find!

  8. rockerdad

    I believe you Ruth that this is not as bad as it seems. Probably too late to see it in the theater but it will definitely be a worthy blu ray rental down the line. I think the film’s major flaw from a marketing standpoint is it’s look – reminds one of Conan in outer space, Krull or that horrendous Costner flick Waterworld. To be fair, even the Star Wars prequels are ridiculed for it’s cheesy jedi-mullet-dungeons and dragons fashion statement. It probably should have been further re-imagined like many of the films it obviously inspired.

    1. That’s right Vince! The trailer with the furry white apes is such a turn-off, and it only appeared in the movie for less than 3 minutes!!

      I actually think the creatures in this movie are ‘normal’ looking compared to those in Star Wars, and there aren’t too many of them that’d distract you from the story.

      Yeah, rent this on Blu-ray, it looks beautiful!

    2. Ted S.

      Well put Vince, had they re-imagined the film, it might be more appealing to today’s audiences. I thought when Andrew Stanton took over the project, it might be something special, but when I saw the trailer I was like wow I’ve seen this many times before.

      1. A trailer can only reveal so much. Again, I’d say see the movie first and then make up your mind. I know I certainly had the same thought as you but ended up liking it.

  9. I believe that Disney intended for the film to flop. There must have been some need to level out their profits with a huge loss for tax purposes (after all, in Hollywood, all films tend to be listed on paper as financial losses). They approved an outlandish budget for a film with little name recognition (the general public does not know much about Burroughs’s books at this point in history) and then went further to destroy name recognition by changing the film’s title to the bland and generic “John Carter.” Furthermore, they released the movie during a time of year known for making little money at the box office; if it had been released during the summer with months of publicity, it could possibly have been a hit. The advertisement did nothing to sell the film, and most people (myself included) had the same reaction to it that you did, which is that it seemed like more derivative Hollywood shlock that ephasizes special effects over story. The reaction seemed to be a general shrug with people planning to wait for home video to see it.

    1. Heh, I never thought of it that way, but you made some interesting arguments here about the tax thing. Still it doesn’t make sense why ANY studio wants its film to flop, I’m no economic expert but it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. At the same time, all the stupidity they’re doing in marketing it (or lack thereof) coming from a studio that has done excellent marketing efforts in the past seems to support your theory.

      Btw, have you seen the film? If so, what do you think?

  10. Yeah, it’s not a classic but it sure isn’t the grand failure a number have written. It is one that I hope will someday get a director’s cut, though. You and I well know the quality someone Andrew Stanton brings and I think he didn’t exactly get what he intended with the theatrical cut. Fine review, Ruth.

    1. No, not a classic but boy it could’ve been! There are quite a lot of interesting characters/universe to be explored. What a missed opportunity.

  11. First! Thank you very much for the link here Ruth! Much appreciated!

    Second, I am so glad you liked it. i wish it would’ve gotten better box office yields myself. I was just telling someone last week that I want to see a sequel but probably wont.

    “Take that Christmas Jones”…ROTFLOL!

    Great review here Ruth.

    1. You’re welcome T. Ah well, like Jamie said, maybe it’s all ‘part of the plan’ [imagine Mickey Mouse saying it like The Joker, ahah] I won’t shed too much tears for Disney!

      He..he.. I don’t know why suddenly the image of the silly Denise Richards in that darn tank top showed up in my head when I wrote this! Good thing she wasn’t cast as Dejah Thoris [gasp!]

  12. I was interested in seeing it, but there were just other films I wanted to see more. Plus the trailer looked cheesy as anything. Great review, but it only makes me even more glad I saw other films. It will be a rental I think.

  13. markuswelby1

    you mentioned the Avatar connection. I just felt that even though Avatar is supposedly taking from JC, Avatar was just a better film for me. JC was decent, but not 250 million decent. I guess I just expected more.

  14. FUNK

    Wow, nice review, and I’ll see this when it comes out in DVD, been a Burroughs fan since my early days, have read all the John Carter books, some Tarzan as well, and still excited they actually made a movie on John Carter. May very well be another SciFi adventure movie I’ll watch every few years.

  15. Glad you enjoyed this, especially since you weren’t keen on it initially. This film took a real beating from a lot of people, and I felt it was considerably better than it was being given credit for.

    You’re absolutely right about the marketing; that’s one thing that it seems as though all the critics are in agreement about. The marketing on this film was just absolutely inept.

  16. You know, I skipped this one but I’m starting to kick myself for it. Good to know it’s got your stamp of approval, Ruth- I’ll have to find it on DVD for sure.

    Also I’ve got to mention “… the story sometimes difficult to follow, but I don’t think it was boring.” That seems surprisingly honest, coming from an actor who’s supposed to be pumping people up for a big-budget movie like this. Good for Dominic West.

    1. Yeah, I do like his honesty, I think a lot of British actors are more straight-forward. And why not, it’s not like he was dissing the movie.

  17. I was impressed with “John Carter” and still don’t fully understand it’s reception. I wonder if it was people’s general unfamiliarity with the character and his story. I can see the position that the marketing was poorly done but even that didn’t effect me. I went and saw it and enjoyed it. It wasn’t the best film of the year so far but it was a lot of fun.

    1. Yay Keith! Glad you weren’t swayed by the reception and saw it for yourself. I’m glad I did and it was quite fun. I wasn’t familiar w/ the character but I became quite fascinated with it. I could see it working well as a miniseries, too.

  18. Nice review, Ruth. I am keen to see this on BluRay when it comes out – poor word of mouth kept me away at the cinema, but I’m eager to see how much (or little) I will enjoy and appreciate this, considering the story is the progenitor of so many of our cinematic cultural touchstones.

    1. I think the poor word of mouth really killed this flick, but sadly some of them probably just went by the trailers! Yes, it’s definitely worth a rental, Rodney.

    1. He’s not too bad actually, but it’s not groundbreaking. Like I said, both he and Purefoy are revisiting their roles in ‘ROME.’

  19. It’s nice reading positive reviews about John Carter in amongst the horror stories.

    I still haven’t seen it due to absolutely no 2D screenings of the film. I think that couldn’t have helped the film either. All the usual cinemas here weren’t giving it any 2D screenings, but in other 3D films they have done.

    1. Well I do think a lot of people who are bashing it haven’t even seen the movie!

      Oh that is a bummer. I was gonna skip it too if it’s only available in 3D but fortunately, as it was on its final week, they put it in the smaller theater that doesn’t have the 3D capability on it.

  20. Nice to see another positive review Ruth! Seems it got a lot of bad press initially, but lately I’ve seen more positive ones. I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well…

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