John Carter is a triumph of production design and CGI over plot and character development. The film which cost nearly $300 million is frustrating for the way it simply refuses to entertain. Watching John Carter makes one feel battered and exploited because after the first half hour, it just becomes an unbearable exercise in mediocrity and progressively more terrible 3D.
Director Andrew Stanton, who has made Pixar classics like A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Wall.E makes an awkward transition to live action cinema, and what we get unfortunately is the worst production he has ever been involved in. Because John Carter is sadly an utter bore and a tiresome experience, and it doesn’t have a shred of the charm of Stanton’s previous films as its self-important sluggishness drones on from one overtly expensive set piece to the next. It just amounts to endless tedium as it slowly drains all signs of life or interest levels from its characters, replacing them with lavish but unattractive computer effects.
The film expires very early on, but it keeps hanging around as it smells prominently fouler with each clichéd plot point. Based on Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book The Princess of Mars, the movie introduces us to John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a bitter civil war soldier in the 19th century who stumbles upon a device in a cave that teleports him to Mars. On the red planet (which is not much red in this film) Carter gets embroiled in yet another civil war, this time between the human-esque people of Helium and the Zodangans. He also falls for Helium’s princess Dejah (Lynn Collins) who is to be married to Zodangan leader Sab Than (Dominic West) as per the deal between the two kings to end the war.
Stanton’s regard for gentle sweetness and emotional payoff are part of the many trademarks of his earlier work, but in John Carter his bloated tonal navigations veer so clumsily that we’re left exhausted instead of being thrilled or amused. It doesn’t help that its star Taylor Kitsch, known mostly for his role as Gambit in Wolverine is bland and expressionless. The meandering parts of overstuffed films like the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels become watchable due to its charismatic star, but Kitsch has none of the magnetism to make the proceedings any more interesting that his countenance.
The villains too are unremarkable – Mark Strong duplicates his otherworldly monotonic cold character from Green Lantern. Without a doubt, the visual effects are grand, and the motion capture detail of the four-handed Tharks is on par with the Na’vis of Avatar. But all of the spectacular CGI is offset by the unspectacular characters, needless exposition and horrible, eyeball stabbing 3D. Disney have suffered more than their share of arid projects, but with this exorbitant mess they appear to have made exactly the disaster they wanted.
Despite a few nifty visual effects, John Carter is rather uninteresting. It fits in the Disney menu except for the fact that it is a dreary dull clutter that completely misses the entertainment mark. Rice Burrows would be twiddling his thumbs in his grave.
(First published in MiD Day)