Matt Conti’s review:
John Carter and I have had a funny history together. While everyone else was anticipating a horrible film, I was hoping for a great return to classic Sci-Fi pulp fantasy of old times. The fact that Andrew Stanton was involved (a man I credit with every genius thing Pixar ever did) only served to rise my anticipation for the film. Aside from Skyfall, this was actually my other big anticipated Hollywood film of the year.
And... I was a bit diasappointed by the end result. John Carter wasn't bad by any means, because when the high notes of the film hit for me, they were really great. It's just there's a lot of dull moments in the film. It's kind of a shame really. The film has two great writers attached to it, and while there is some sense of emotion to it, it isn't up to the pedigree that Stanton is used to providing.
The film didn't even really deliver on the pulp thrills. I mean, they were there, but mostly fleeting. It just doesn't have the sense of adventure that I want it to have. When you make a fantasy film, I want to be taken away into a world that while not possible, seems real for the duration of the running time. While my suspension of disbelief was present, I never really brought myself into the world of Barsoom. The only times I really ever found myself taken away by the film were the moments where Giacchino's score was present (more on that later).
I think the biggest problem comes with the actual character of John Carter. He's our main character, and even though we're dealing with a pulp Sci-Fi fantasy movie, he's kind of a non presence. Now, Kitsch wasn't really terrible, and it's not like Carter doesn't go through some decent development throughout the film, but that's the problem. We're never really given a moment to want to root for him. I want to like the guy, and there are moments where I do, but it's never enough. Given Stanton's reputation, I should have loved this guy from the opening scenes. I kind of did, but never to the extent this should have been.
Dejah Thoris is a different story though. She's a real character that you want to see succeed. Though John Carter may be the hero that saves the day, Dejah is able to hold her own, and has motivations and desires that go beyond wanting to be saved. She is the voice of reason. This is the kind of feminism I like. One where the women tend to prove there worth on their own, and are only subject to submission by things out of their control. Lynn Collins isn't amazing in this role, but she sufficiently plays it. If John Carter had been given some better characterization, their chemistry would have popped like it should have.
There's also a lack of a serial nature to this, which is what really hurts. The Edgar Rice Burroughs stories had a NEXT TIME feeling to the story, and had this film gone for an Indiana Jones type feeling, this film could have worked. In fact, the best parts of this film are the stretches where it indeed does follow that formula. But when this film gets to a slow point, it doesn't just slow down, it halts. That hurts a film like this that should have been briskly paced. I understand that the film needs exposition for this slightly complex world, but it doesn't need to come to a screeching halt every time it needs to establish something.
It's the films second act where the biggest lag is. The opening and the final act are great, and if the second act of this film had been a little tighter, then this film would have been absolutely great.
The film's villains are also a bit lacking. I absolutely love Dominic West, but he doesn't do much here, and they never really get to elaborate on how much of a psychopath the character is made out to be. The Therns are also wasted, especially after being built up to be very powerful beings, and yet we never really see Carter have an extremely tough time with them like he should.
But I promised to bring this up before, and I'm bringing it up now: Michael Giacchino's score in this film is absolutely amazing. Anytime his score started to pump up, the film came alive, and had that Sci-Fi Pulp feeling I'm talking about. I felt shivers during the crescendo of the track \"John Carter of Mars\" as the title card came up. That's a powerful score, and I can only imagine what would have happened if the rest of the film lived up to the power of Giacchino's score. In fact, there's a very emotional moment of the film that works mainly due to Giacchino's score.
As for other aspects of the film, they're passable. While the CGI is at times dodgy, it still kind of works. Stanton, like his fellow Pixar member Brad Bird, prove to be better action directors than 99% of the rest of the action directors who favor shaky cam nonsense. While the film's action isn't spectacular, it's certainly very watchable, and as stated before, Giacchino's score makes it very exciting.
I really wanted to love John Carter. I really did. I love Sci-Fi pulp fantasy. It's such a great genre that shows the unlimited potential of the human imagination and can be so very exciting. Unfortunately, there's too much that prevents it from being the really great film I want it to be. It shines in some spots, but not enough, and since the film bombed, I doubt we'll ever get a sequel that really capitalizes on what we've already seen and improving on this film. Oh well. I just hope this doesn't discourage from Stanton trying out more live action films, or other studios trying out the genre.
On a side note, maybe this film would have worked better if Stanton worked on the film with Pixar and not Disney.