Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
100 years ago this month, Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs published his first novel about the hero to be known as John Carter of Mars. Amazingly, this is the first time that this character has been brought to life on the big screen.
The result? Rather than being the original, fantastical adventure the likes of which cinema audiences have never seen, we’re instead given something of a rehash of the films that took it as its inspiration.The character’s legacy in the movies becomes increasingly apparent. You’re frequently reminded of Avatar, Attack of the Clones, Return of the Jedi, and, most worryingly, Cowboys Vs Aliens. John Carter fans cry “but this story came first”. That doesn’t excuse this film adaptation from being derivative, however slavishly it follows the book. In the hands of Pixar genius Andrew Stanton, the man who gave us Wall-E, Finding Nemo and the Toy Stories, it’s even more inexcusable.
Firstly, the film takes AGES to get going. With a few notable exceptions (foiled escapes, discovering the gravity on Mars), there’s an awful lot of ramble. You know they’re setting up a pair of bookends for the film- and, indeed, the ending is more satisfying as a result- but it’s not done in a way that’s interesting enough to the casual viewer who doesn’t know where it’s all going. Perhaps on second viewing it’ll fly by, maybe even resonate emotionally… but it’s unlikely many will choose to sit through this twice.
The cast are shockingly bland. The likes of Mark Strong, James Purefoy, The Wire’s Dominic West and the mighty Ciaran Hinds are wasted on forgettable roles and Lynn Collins makes a non-existent screen presence as the female lead, rather then making the most of a potentially career-launching role.
Thankfully, it’s Taylor Kitsch, John Carter himself, that gives the film any star power. He has the requisite bad boy charm to pull off his early scenes, and gets to flex some very impressive action muscles. Lean and lithe, rather than built and bulky, Kitsch looks the part, even if he isn’t asked to do much more in terms of acting other than smoulder. Let’s just say he plays to his strengths; once the shirt comes off, it pretty much stays off.
It’s certainly not all bad news, and I don’t want to misrepresent this as an absolute turkey. The visual effects are, of course, incredible, and there’s more than enough on display here for you to get your money’s worth. It’s a shame you have to have to wade through so much tedium to get to it.
One more thing to note, I have long been a dissenter against this 3D trend, especially 2D films that are later converted into 3D. This is one of the latter, and, I have to say, they’ve done a pretty remarkable job. Quite a few times I found myself noticing the 3D effect, and was quite pleased with the results. If you are going to see it, I might actually recommend seeing the 3D version for once. If nothing else, it’s got me even more excited about the forthcoming Finding Nemo re-release in 3D.