While it’s certainly true that viewers will be able to spot all sorts of ideas that have been seen in other stories, it’s of little consequence, as a (perceived) lack of originality is the least of the movie’s problems.
As the film begins, we are introduced to Mars (aka Barsoom) and the relationship between Dominic West and Marc Strong’s villains. This sequence lasts about two minutes, and serves absolutely no purpose. The only logical explanation for it being there is that a test audience in some inbred hick town in the Midwest of America came out dribbling on themselves, complaining ‘I didn’t get it’, and Disney panicked.
Following on from our 120 seconds of pointless exposition, we’re ‘treated’ to a second false start that was clearly added to facilitate a sequel, and shore up the rather abrupt and down beat ending, before we finally get to the actual story. Not only are these two sequences unnecessary, but they’re distracting, dull and a sign of just how little faith the movie has in its audience. For the next two hours it hammers home every point so hard it’s impossible to remain emotionally engaged.
What’s really frustrating is that in the handful of moments where we’re trusted to piece things together – Carter’s back story in particular – the movie comes alive. For a few seconds here and there we’re allowed to muse on what we’re seeing, and enjoy ourselves, but it never lasts; all of a sudden we hit a juggernaut of exposition and the narrative drive of the movie comes to a grinding halt.
It doesn’t help that Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter with all the charm and charisma of an over-boiled cabbage. For a few moments near the start of the film (well, after the two false starts, anyway) broody, sulky John Carter is quite enjoyable, as he escapes US military custody, and growls at Bryan Cranston, but it soon wears thin.
There are some positives. If you have an interest in the technical side of screenwriting, you’ll be able to marvel at the meticulous attention the writers have paid to the structure of the film, while fans of defunct HBO TV series will no doubt take great pleasure from seeing Ciaran Hinds and James Purefoy reunited on screen in exactly the same roles they played in Rome. It’s a shame the pair have such little screen time, as more of them could have rescued the movie. It’s also hard not to enjoy Dominic West’s performance as the dastardly Sab Tham. Unfortunately these things aren’t enough to make John Carter watchable.
If you’re a ten year old boy you’ll probably find the action sequences exciting, and the aliens fun and appealing. If you’re not a ten year old boy it’s probably worth avoiding.