Skip to main content

We can't have Earthmen projecting themselves over here, leaping about... causing all manner of disruption.

John Carter
(2012)

Most of the criticisms of Andrew Stanton's mega-budget folly are fair comment. It's a frustrating experience, as the failings clearly don't result from an indifference to the source material or the neutering influence of a nervous studio. John Carter has issues down the line from conception of storyline to casting, and you can only really level the blame at the door of its architect. 



The problems with story and structure might seem less noticeable if Carter was played by someone exuding an ounce of charisma (perhaps venturing to ask for a pint, in a thin glass). 
After all, it worked for Gladiator (although, in fairness, that film had a very clear through-line for its main character that this one lacks). But Taylor Kitsch can only bring pretty-boy looks and freshly-toned abs to the game. I thought he made a decent showing as Gambit in Wolverine, but the best I can say for him here is that he's competent. If he just about gets away with pouting about the surface of Barsoom, he looks ridiculously anachronisitic in 1868. 



Stanton's managed to cast the rest of the film extremely well, which makes Kitsch even more of a disappointment. The problem for them is more one of limited characterisation and leaden dialogue. Lynne Collins (who was also in Wolverine) is much more impressive than her co-lead, while Samantha Morton and Willem Dafoe makes strong impressions as motion-captured Tharks. Thomas Hayden Church fares less well his one-note brute. Likewise, Dominic West doesn't get to do much more than snarl. James Purefoy is one of the few in the cast given a chance to inject a sense of fun into the proceedings; it's something of a Rome reunion, as Caesar to his Anthony, Ciaran Hinds, also lends support as does Polly Walker (as a Thark). The ubiquitous Mark Strong has a better role than as Sinestro in Green Lantern last year, and his scene explaining his role and manipulation of events to Carter is one of the best sequences in the film. But...



Like an awful lot here, he's not clearly defined. Perhaps the Therns are the same nebulous lot with god-like powers in the novels, but their motivation is nevertheless unsatisfying. They seem to do what they do just because they do and always have. They aren't evil so much as inscrutable puppet masters. Motivations elsewhere aren't strong enough to survive the number of narrative diversions that take place. Carter blandly hides a secret and vacillates over his allegiances, the Tharks threaten to kill Carter numerous times without ever going for it, the Princess is a shit-hot scientist/warrior but the writers are unable to have her explain the ninth ray clearly. 



So too, the effects for Carter's superhuman leaps are impressive but the logic of what he can do appears to change with the requirements of the scene he's in. One moment he can have seven bells beaten out of him, the next he's killing with a single punch, or dispatching a white ape with ease. And I can't say I bought into his ruse involving the medallion; wouldn't the Therns know whether there are/where there are medallions littered about the Earth? Perhaps such issues result from being surrounded by yes-men, or not listening to no-men. For a film that spends so much time on set-up and introductions, willing to grind to a halt at points to engage in verbose exposition, to lack clarity in respect of basic motivations and parameters suggests Stanton ultimately couldn't see the wood for the trees.


Stanton succeeds with the world-building and vistas, but he still mostly recalls other movie worlds, be it Dune or (even) The Chronicles of Riddick. Barsoom is full of sand; there's nothing very exotic about it. And while he mounts the action in a consistently entertaining manner, it's rarely enthralling. The one scene that ignites, Carter's single-handed take-down of an army of Tharks (again, the issue with his variable abilities), is somewhat punctured by the intercut flashbacks to the fate of his family. 


It's a shame this was a (relative) box office failure, as I'd like to see more science fiction/fantasy fare that has the confidence to take its audience to a fully envisioned new world. This one has more in common with a better-directed Krull than a new Star Wars, though. That said, Lucas would love the dog.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

What we sell are hidden truths. Our territory is the mind. Our merchandise is fear.

The Avengers 5.1: The Fear Merchants
The colour era doesn't get off to such a great start with The Fear Merchants, an Avengers episode content to provide unstinting averageness. About the most notable opinion you’re likely to come away with is that Patrick Cargill rocks some magnificent shades.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Do not run a job in a job.

Ocean’s 8 (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s nothing wrong with the gender-swapped property per se, any more than a reboot, remake or standard sequel exploiting an original’s commercial potential (read: milking it dry). As with those more common instances, however, unless it ekes out its own distinctive territory, gives itself a clear reason to be, it’s only ever going to be greeted with an air of cynicism (whatever the current fashion for proclaiming it valid simply because it's gender swapped may suggest to the contrary).  The Ocean's series was pretty cynical to start with, of course – Soderbergh wanted a sure-fire hit, the rest of the collected stars wanted the kudos of working with Soderbergh on a "classy" crowd pleaser, the whole concept of remaking the '60s movie was fairly lazy, and by the third one there was little reason to be other than smug self-satisfaction – so Ocean's 8 can’t be accused of letting any side down. It also gives itself distinctively – stereo…

There’s still one man out here some place.

Sole Survivor (1970)
(SPOILERS) I’m one for whom Sole Survivor remained a half-remembered, muddled dream of ‘70s television viewing. I see (from this site) the BBC showed it both in 1979 and 1981 but, like many it seems, in my veiled memory it was a black and white picture, probably made in the 1950s and probably turning up on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2. Since no other picture readily fits that bill, and my movie apparition shares the salient plot points, I’ve had to conclude Sole Survivor is indeed the hitherto nameless picture; a TV movie first broadcast by the ABC network in 1970 (a more famous ABC Movie of the Week was Spielberg’s Duel). Survivor may turn out to be no more than a classic of the mind, but it’s nevertheless an effective little piece, one that could quite happily function on the stage and which features several strong performances and a signature last scene that accounts for its haunting reputation.

Directed by TV guy Paul Stanley and written by Guerdon Trueblood (The…

It’s all Bertie Wooster’s fault!

Jeeves and Wooster 3.4: Right Ho, Jeeves  (aka Bertie Takes Gussie's Place at Deverill Hall)
A classic set-up of crossed identities as Bertie pretends to be Gussie and Gussie pretends to be Bertie. The only failing is that the actor pretending to be Gussie isn’t a patch on the original actor pretending to be Gussie. Although, the actress pretending to be Madeline is significantly superior than her predecessor(s).

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).