Sunday, March 11, 2012
John Carter of Mars
"Waterworld" for about fifteen years now has been the by-word for a total disastrous expensive flop of a movie. Its the "Watergate" of flops, a single incident that defines the entire embarrassing phenomena. "Waterworld" was a huge overblown disaster that, along with "The Postman", flat-out killed Kevin Costner's directing career. However, there's one thing people forget while gloating over the hilarious box office failure of "Waterworld"... it wasn't a bad movie. Go out and rent it, "Waterworld" is actually a lot of fun. I recommend it. And "John Carter of Mars" is actually a damn good move, forget the box office.
If you're after a SciFi adventure that works in all the places that matter, "John Carter of Mars" is what the doctor ordered. This is the kind of movie I would have loved as a kid, its the kind of movie I love now, and God help me, its the kind of movie I'll love until the day I die. When you get too mature for simple thrills and quality storylines, then what's the point of even watching movies any more? It was just a lot of fun: you got the pretty visuals of a Star Wars prequel, BUT with a more competent director and a much better script. So I loved it, there you go.
Oh, did I forget to mention this is directed by Andrew Stanton, the Pixar alumni who made "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E"? Because that's important, he's kind of a big deal.
John Carter originally was a series of pulp SciFi novels that are now almost a century old, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the "Tarzan" guy. Specifically this movie is an adaptation of "A Princess of Mars"*, a book published in 1917. That means its so old than its actually several years older than my great-grandpa, and its never once been made into a movie or serial or TV show. Apparently that makes John Carter the great-granddaddy of all the SciFi serials and adventure stories we've known and loved for decades. Though what do I know? I never heard of the guy until the trailers, so I have no idea how faithful this is to the original stories. And well... I don't care. It looks like Edgar Rice wrote some silly little adventure fantasy books in space, as you can probably see with Frank Franzetta artwork. What I do care is that the stories inspired one really fun movie, so thanks Mr. Burroughs. Sadly the other books are probably not getting adapted, oh well.
"John Carter of Mars" obviously stars a dude named John Carter, played by the newest Hollywood star bot, Taylor Hitch. He's the replacement for the previous model, James Franco, which embarrassingly broke down during the Oscars last year and had to be retired. Taylor Hitch, unfortunately, is an inferior replacement, but who cares, he's just the Dumb Action Hero anyway. John Carter, as you can probably guess, is the least interesting part of "John Carter", and he's overshadowed by just about every other character in the movie. Which is fine, all John Carter needs to do is swing swords and jump good. For some reason really grumpy heroes that don't care about anybody or anything are in vogue right now, so that's what John Carter does for the first half of the movie. He actually bitches a lot about his stupid "cave full of gold" back on Earth*. Then when he needs to be heroic, he gets heroic. Ho hum.
Now, that doesn't sound very good for "John Carter" as a movie, but let me explain: this movie is really cool. Along with Johnny Carter, we got green aliens with four arms, a bulldog alien that can run at superspeed, white evil guys with blue magic, and hot tanned humans. If you're wondering why there's life on Mars, or why there are humans on Mars, obviously you're watching the wrong movie and need to go home. Those questions are irrelevant, we're here to have nonsensical fun. So its a movie with lots of weird creatures and magic, and also Airships, giant monsters, and walking cities. If the idea of a walking city isn't cool for you... go away. Who or what are you? Probably not human. And importantly, all these weird creatures aren't just placed together as a series of action sequences, there's a rather deep political plot with manipulative villains and plain old awesomeness.
Also, "John Carter" is populated by great performances to cover up Taylor Hitch's mediocre programming. We got Willem Defoe playing a green alien, that's fun. Mark Motherfucking Strong is the big bad, a cold cunning demon standing behind a disposable warlord guy. Mark Strong is awesome in everything, and he's awesome in this. He's simply an amazing actor, I'm a little gay for him. I really loved that Mark Strong's plot is almost the same as the Occuria in "Final Fantasy XII". Only the Occuria knew to pick the strong princess, not the obvious villain, Mark Strong should have followed in their lead.
But the real find and real surprise in this movie is Lynn Collins as the Princess of Mars, who steals every scene away from Johnny Carter and becomes the real main character. Is this why the original book was called "A Princess of Mars, because the Princess character is like ten times better than John Conner? Lynn Collins is gorgeous, actually looks the part of a Frank Franzetta heroine, and has so much presence to this movie. And the fact she spends the entire moving wearing increasingly less cloths helps too. I'm not even going to ask Lynn Collins to marry me this time, I have too much respect for her performance here. Yeah, she's roped into a love plot with Jimmy Carter, but I like to interpret this movie as the Princess manipulating this stupid Slab Bulkhead guy into being her sword to defeat her enemies. The Princess is the real heroine here, if they do make a sequel, leave Roll Fizzlebeef on Earth.
And did I mention the dog? I love that dog. Everybody loves that dog.
So let me wrap this up, "Jack Kennedy of Mars" was a great fun movie. And I don't care about the box office results, the audience that was in the theatre seemed to really like it. The little old lady down the row from me was actually applauding, and I joined in. It seemed appropriate. This movie was worth the cost of admission. Disney might lose money for this, but that's just a tragedy. "John Carter" might not be the kind of movies that get Academy Awards, but it had its heart in exactly the right place. You could tell that director, and most of the cast really cared, especially Lynn Collins who gave a shockingly brilliant performance. Recalling "Prince of Persia", a movie Disney made two years ago to be a stupid Blockbuster, that film was made by people who didn't give a shit and were just producing a bad fast food product. "John Carter of Mars" really did care. It wanted to be great, and it was!
Most fun I've had at the movies all year. Best Blockbuster since "Tron: Legacy".
* John Carter's obsession with the gold is a weird plot point, because he's forgetting the major issue of the dying Bryan Cranston in the cave that he left behind! When John Carter teleports to Mars, he was originally carrying a badly wounded Bryan Cranston, who had been shot by Apaches. The whole movie passes, and they just forget about Bryan Cranston. I mean, I didn't, it was bugging me the entire time. Then when Scott Pilgrim goes back to Earth, he finds... the skeletal remains of Bryan Cranston. Holy shit! They just left that poor guy to bleed to death in a cave.