How bad could “John Carter” really be? How much was its failure simply a story hyped up by the media? Especially given that it’s from a member of the Pixar brain trust, could it really be that much worse than any of the “Transformers” movies?
Such were the questions floating around in my head around hour 7 of my plane flight home from Europe this summer. I had just woken up from an “In Darkness”-induced nap and was not trying to get back into the dark, depressing world Agnieska Holland was portraying. I contemplated giving “21 Jump Street” or “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” a second viewing, but curiosity won out. I decided to plunge into Andrew Stanton’s “John Carter.”
Turns out, it was pretty darn bad. Not bad in a good way. Not bad in a way that provides a sadistic kick. Not bad in an “it’s so bad I have to keep watching” kind of way. (Thankfully, not bad in a Michael Bay way. It’s slightly better than that.) “John Carter” is bad in the good old-fashioned way: the antonym of good.
If the source material of “John Carter” inspired such greats as “Star Wars” and “Avatar,” it surely doesn’t shine through this film. Andrew Stanton gives his movie the feel of a humorless early 2000s Wayans brothers spoof film … that happens to have a $200 million effects budget. Seriously though, could a million dollars have not been reallocated towards redeveloping the script? (Or perhaps a halfway coherent marketing campaign would have been better.)
Granted, the spectacle satisfies. The desert worlds look incredibly legitimate, and the creatures are grittily realistic. But none of that matters in a film over a few minutes long when you don’t have legitimate or realistic characters or plot. The whole enterprise just feels banal and inane. As Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter leaps from the Civil War to the world of Mars – I mean, Barsoom – the conflict never draws us in. It becomes an act of defiance and self-denial to finish “John Carter.” And the only reason I saw it all the way through to its predictably boring and unexciting conclusion was to make sure I could write this complete, fully-fleshed pan. C- /