Yesterday I went (sadly alone) to see the new John Carter movie. Big screen. 3D. Big bag of buttery popcorn. Coke. Low expectations.
I have a few thoughts.
It’s the type of movie you sit through thinking, is it almost over?
However, some things you have to love. If you are a nerd. The top nerdie things 5….
1) Perfect CGI of the Tharks, the four-armed, green-skinned martians. Flawless lighting effects on their bodies. Flawless rending of their skin. Flawless muscle movement, even on their faces.
2) Epic and brilliantly CGI’d world of dust and rock and ruins. Some say it was bleak, I say, sure, but CGI’d bleak.
3) Lovable Martian dog companion. Ok, not a dog per se but if it pants and growls and slobbers and like’s a good rubbing, then it’s a dog.
4) Lots of skimpy outfits from the female guards and the hot princess to that dude from Friday Night Lights (Taylor Kitsch). I don’t think he spends more than 10 min on screen without his shirt off, and the princess’s wedding dress looks more like something from the porn version, Long Carter of Mars.
5) The airships, the other monsters, the weapons, the mounts, the decorations and details, all fantastic. The CGI guys deserve a pat on the back.
But here’s the thing. Over all, the movie fails.
It suffers from a severe case of Lucasitis. That is to say, plot, character, depth, emotion, not needed, just give me a good looking Gungun.
And I am their target audience. Nerdie. Love CGI. Love good battle scenes. Love a good love story. But I also love something that’s gripping, something that makes me think or feel, something that has a good villain and an epic hero and a moment that can somehow capture the entire movie.
This one has good CGI.
So here’s the plot. It starts on Mars with a confusing battle and history lesson and some magical/techno powers are given to detective Jimmy McNulty (from the Wire) by Mark Strong, (the go-to snuggle toothed villain from the first Sherlock Holmes movie.) Then we go to earth and spend some time with the writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yes, we spend time with the writer. Then John Carter’s story begins via a book he left behind for his nephew, the writer. Does it start on Mars? Nope, we start with JC in the old west. We start with his quest for caves and a bar fight and some funny scenes of him trying to escape the law (in this case, the 7th cavalry) and then everyone is chased by Indians and John Carter finally, FINALLY, finds the cave that takes him to Mars.
On Mars, he can jump really high. And throw really far. And break chains, sometimes but not always. And seems to have great strength, sometimes but not always. Anyway, he kinda wants to get back home for his gold but he’s captured but the greenskinned CGI tharks and meets a princess and they have some snappy dialogue and they fight together and she wants to save her people or not get married to the Wire detective, I’m really not sure which, but he decides going home is more important than helping her, all the while the evil snuggle-toothed villain teleports here and there and assumes random disguises so he can influence the outcome of history. Whew.
Got it? I didn’t. I like my plots easy to understand. Batman, stop the Joker or he will destroy Gotham City. Luke, stop that heavy-breathing cool dude in black armor from destroying the Republic. Indie, stop the Nazis from getting the golden trunk of awesomeness.
Anyway, at some point he falls for the princess but she decides she has to marry Detective McNulty and he gets captured by different and meaner greenskinned Tharks and defeats some big, fluffy beastie in the arena which makes all the Tharks love him and off they all charge to save the princess or the world or something, I’m really not sure.
There is an epic battle at the end, the good guy gets the girl, poor McNulty, who I was kinda rooting for at this point, dies some weird techno-magical death and then I think the hero and heroine have sex but this is a Disney Movie so it’s not that hot, sweaty Spartacus love making, it’s more I Love Lucy. Then he’s teleported back to earth by the snuggle-toothed villain who seems to have all sorts of cool powers except when it really counts. It should have ended there, John Carter, finally finding love again, only to have it snatched from him but no, it goes on for a bit and ends with silliness.
And here is what I thought throughout the entire film. This was written by Michael Chabon. (to be fair, amongst others). Spiderman 2, Michael Chabon. The Wonderboys, Michael Chabon. The guy who won a freaking Pulitzer prize for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Michael Chabon!
Did he watch that movie and think, damn, yo, I totally nailed it, this was epic awesomesauce? Or did he facepalm himself and slink out of the theater hoping no one would recognize him? Oi, I hope the latter.
So, if you like CGI genius, if you like a shirtless Taylor Kitsch or love to go to a movie that is easy to rant about, then this is for you. If not, go watch Spiderman 2. That’s nerdie story-telling at its best.