Yes, it’s all true, Disney spent $250 million on the budget for John Carter, which only reinforces what Dolly Parton said about her enhancements: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Well, not cheap exactly in the case of Carter–just maybe uninspired.
Your humble reviewer could spend the rest of this page listing the titles of the movies from which Carter borrowed. This thing is a pastiche of every adventure/fairy tale/time-travel movie ever produced. John Carter, you understand, isn’t bad: it’s worse than that. All those production values, all those computer-generated images, all those pixels, and it never comes alive.
Our star is the aptly named Taylor Kitsch, a young man who resembles a personal trainer from West Hollywood, with a look of haunted innocence, six-pack abs, two zits and four facial expressions. He’s rather sweet but certainly no match for his love interest, Sola (Lynn Collins), a zaftig babe who resembles a pre-nose job Catherine Zeta-Jones. Despite looking as if she was born in a Las Vegas lounge, Sola proves to be a princess.
We will now rewind to the United States of l88l, where a soldier (John Carter) is transported to Mars through a magic medallion. We could rewind even more to find that our whole story is a flashback engendered by Carter’s nephew reading the dead man’s journal. The nephew’s name is Edgar Rice Burroughs, who, as some of you will remember, is the name of the author who wrote Tarzan as well as the source novel for our movie, A Princess of Mars.
Meanwhile, back on Mars, Carter finds because of gravity (but not gravitas) he can jump long, helpful distances–almost exactly like The Incredible Hulk in the Ang Lee movie, hardly any recommendation at all. So Carter, his loincloth akimbo, jumps from trouble spot to trouble spot, all related to a civil war on Mars, but also on several adjacent planets, one of which is Earth. The rival factions try to arrange a marriage between the princess and the evil tyrant (Dominic West of 300) of the “other” side.
Boy, talk about your conflicts. There are monster-creatures looking like Jar-Jar Binks with tusks and deep voices, one of which belongs to Willem Dafoe. There are giant monsters in an arena, hiding under the sand floor as in Gladiator, but these pose little problem for Carter. Also along the way there are hidden caves, shape-shifting villains, magic weapons, incantations and hieroglyphics and, well, it just wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a cutesy animal or two. This one looks just like a little doggie, lovable and companionate, blue-tongued and–well–cute, cute, cute. We’re not on Mars; we’re in Disneyland.
Do Carter and the Princess marry up? Do the flashbacks unspool? Does the audience rush the exits? Just guess.