John Carter has bombed. The film that cost $250 million to make, made just over $30 million at its opening weekend, and has never really improved since then. I went to see it two days after its release, and I was the only person in the theatre. But of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the film itself is bad. It’s just a coincidence.
Well, I’m perhaps being a bit harsh on it. The storyline is quite good. I’m all for escapism and the film really works in 3D, with plenty of zooming shots with huge mountains flying past the audiences’ eyes, without ever being too intrusive. And I was genuinely excited at the end to see the film’s climax and have the loose ends tied up. In fact the only problem is the characters. They’re awful. The entire script it awful. The character’s look like real people, they talk like real people and move like real people, so why is it so hard to believe in them?! It’s not that a lot of them are aliens. Oh no, I can do aliens. In fact I think the most well-thought out and accessible character in this entire film is a kind of dog-alien hybrid that follows John Carter around, because it’s motives are pure. The audience can see how the dog-thing first met Carter and grew attached to him, and we see how their relationship grows as they negotiate challenges together and ultimately the creature saves John Carter’s life (oh don’t moan about spoilers, it’s not like any of you are actually going to go and see this film). It’s a touching relationship and I was glad to see the dog’s emotional development throughout the film.
The same can’t be said for the actual characters. You know, the ones that are meant to move the plot along and stuff like that. So we get that John Carter is an ex-soldier who did some bad stuff when he was fighting (I guess he deserted, but that’s never really made clear). But then we’re introduced to the fact that he also has an absolute stockpile of money. Hey, do you reckon we need to explain why that is? Nah, the audience will figure it out. I mean, what former soldier hasn’t gone on to become a millionaire for absolutely no adequately explained reason whatsoever? Anyway, Carter uses this presumably ill-gotten money (since the audience is left to fill in the blanks as to how he got the cash, I’ve assumed he became involved in the sex trade and the reason the writers don’t tell us is because this is a kids film) to dig for valuable artifacts all over the world. In doing so, he discovers an ancient treasure that transports him to ‘Barsoom’ or Mars to be more precise.
[pullquote_right]This is a decent bit of film. The directing is, to be fair, top-notch throughout (which makes sense seeing as this is from the dude who directed the brilliant Wall-E), and the acting is pretty good as well. As I say, it’s just let down by a mediocre-to-poor script.[/pullquote_right]
The audience is shown flashbacks of Carter with this woman back on Earth. When it first happened, I thought ‘well that’s kinda cool, I guess we’ll find out more about that soon’, when it happened again I though ‘oh yeah, I forgot about that, still looking forward to finding out more about that later’ and then it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN NOR IS ANY REFERENCE MADE TO IT. It’s like the writers just forgot about it. In fact, so did I until I left the cinema and looked at my notes. Presumably it’s there to show how Carter had some kind of love affair back on Earth and, by extension, add depth to his character. But it just doesn’t work like that, because the only time we see this woman is when she’s making out with Carter in these flashbacks. This makes me think she could easily just be some hooker Carter likes to think about when he’s bored. Adding fuel to this theory is the fact that Carter pretty willingly throws himself into the arms of this Mars princess without further thought to his girl at home who was giving him so much grief about twenty minutes earlier.
It’s because of this that I humbly suggest this same storyline should have been set over two films. This would have given the writers time to explore the main characters so the stuff they do ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE and it would have made the big ending even more emotionally powerful. As it is, I’m here wishing that more characters could have been like the dog. A bit two-dimensional, but real.