For a while now, Walt Disney Pictures has been trying to develop an action/adventure franchise with the same mass appeal of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Its first attempt was with the failed “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” “John Carter,” Disney’s latest venture, isn’t much of an improvement. This is a flashy and corny blockbuster with only a couple amusing moments every 30 minutes.
Despite this, the film will still probably be a financial success, giving Disney all the fuel it needs to make another 10 sequels. One thing is for certain about “John Carter” though, “Pirates of the Caribbean” it is not.
Taylor Kitsch from “Friday Night Lights” plays the generically named John Carter, a Civil War veteran who has hidden a heap of gold in a cave. Before Carter can collect his fortune, he is transported to Mars through a series of incomprehensible contrivances.
It turns out that in the late-18th century, Mars was overrun by aliens, inhabitants got around using airships ripped off from the “Final Fantasy” universe, and the planet looked suspiciously like Utah.
Upon arriving on the planet, Carter discovers that he now has the ability to jump at great distances. In one of the film’s more whimsical moments, he struggles to find his bearings on the Red Planet’s floor.
The first beings that Carter encounters on Mars are the Tharks, green extraterrestrials with four arms and boar tusks. Their leader is Tars Tarkas, a noble CGI soldier voiced by Willem Dafoe who wishes to use Carter’s jumping abilities to aid his tribe. At first a language barrier separates the human and the Tharks, leading to a humorous sequence in which the aliens mistake Carter’s name for Virginia.
But Carter quickly picks up the Tharks dialect because the film apparently follows the same logic as Disney’s “Pocahontas.”
During his journey, Carter also crosses paths with Princess Dejah Thoris, a Xena Warrior Princess wannabe played by the luminous Lynn Collins. She’s being forced into a marriage with the evil Prince Sab Than, who is secretly plotting to destroy her kingdom known as Helium.
Seriously, Helium, is that the best name they could come up with for a mystical kingdom on Mars? Were they so desperate for names that they randomly picked an element off the Periodic Table?
In addition to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “John Carter” evokes memories of numerous other movies. Compared to all of them the film falls short.
The aliens aren’t half as interesting or convincing as the Na’vi in “Avatar,” the extravagant sets don’t hold a candle to the world of “Thor,” and the action sequences are considerably dull when compared to a “Star Wars” movie.
The film that “John Carter” is most reminiscent of is “Cowboys & Aliens,” which was directed by Jon Favreau, who originally signed on to direct this movie.
While “Cowboys & Aliens” was no masterpiece, at least it had more class and wit than “John Carter,” which only amounts to a pulpy mess.
The characters are as thin and broad as they come. Carter lacks the charisma of somebody like Jack Sparrow, Han Solo, or Indiana Jones, making him almost impossible to care about. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to own a John Carter action figure or dressing up as him for Halloween.
The only individual in the entire film that’s even remotely entertaining is a dog/frog-like alien that zips around like Sonic the Hedgehog. Maybe he could inspire a cool plush toy.
What makes “John Carter” even more disappointing is the fact that it was directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, the man who made the brilliant “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E.”
Here Stanton forgets all about character development and narrative, giving us a run-of-the-mill science-fiction action movie. Stanton and company adapted “John Carter” from the first of a series of novels.
Having not read the book, I cannot say if the film does it justice. What I can say though, is that “John Carter” is overstuffed, rushed, and surprisingly boring. The fact that a movie like this isn’t even mindlessly engaging is the biggest letdown of all.
But hey, at least it’s a step-up from “The Last Airbender.”
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.