I’d read two awful reviews before I saw this today. Both slammed it for being too long and too difficult to follow and I nearly didn’t bother going. Luckily a friend of mine went to see it and loved it, so I thought what the hell, I’ll give it a go and boy am I glad I did.
John Carter is based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs ( yes that’s right, the man who created Tarzan ) John Carter of Mars series. Now I haven’t read any of these. I do vaguely remember reading a comic adaptation of one of his Carter stories and really enjoyed it but I read a lot of shit when I was younger and really enjoyed that, so that’s not a great guide as to whether it’d be any good or not. Just to be sure I took my eight year old son along with me, after al it might be one of those awful films that only kids like, you know the ones with tons of explosions, a plot that’s been scribbled on the back of a fag packet and a plethora of eye-candy ( Transformers any one? )
The film starts in the late eighteen hundreds. John Carter is rushing through the busy streets of some American city desperate to shake off a mysterious man on his tail. He enters a Telegraph Store and sends a telegram to Ed asking him to come quickly. We then leap back a bit and see a destitute Carter trying to buy provisions in some awful outpost before being apprehended by the United States Cavalry. John fought for the South during the Civil War and has no wish to join up again and pretty soon escapes only to be hounded by the U.S. Cavalry straight into some rather unfriendly Indians. The Indians chase Carter ( and a stray Captain he’s captured ) into a strange cave, the spider cave ( easy web-slingers. ) The native Americans back off but before Carter can grab his breath a cloaked figure appears from nowhere and tries to kill him…
Well, its no surprise by now that Captain Carter kills the guy in the cloak rather promptly but before he dies he mumbles an incantation and the ornate amulet around his neck starts to glow with an ominous blue light. Carter grabs it and disappears from the cave only to wake in an alien desert. And on it goes. John Carter rattles along at hell of a rate and reminded me of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials, action packed with plenty of cliff-hangers.
Carter is thrust into the hostile world of Barsoom ( that’s Mars to you and me ) and finds it very difficult to make friends, not that he’s trying that hard. He’s captured by the Tharks, tall, gangly aliens with two extra arms and dashing tusks, is beseeched by Dejah Thoris, ( a very attractive human and Princess of Helium a huge city full of the good guys ) to save Helium from the evil clutches of Dominic West. He does his best to ignore all of them, desperate to get back home to Virginia.
Now the popular press have slated it because they say it is just too difficult to understand. I had no such difficulties but it is fair to say that I have consumed a large amount of Sci-Fi and Fantasy over the years, some of it rather wonderful and some of it very bollocks, so I probably have a knack for decoding this type of thing. I asked asked my son, he loves Star Wars, yes even Episode One, was spellbound by Lord of the Rings and enthralled by Harry Potter but he’s only eight, so if he can understand it anyone can. He loved it. When we left I checked that he’d understood what was going on and he looked at me like I was mad, nuff said.
The story isn’t that complex and the premise is simple so why oh why are critics having such a hard time with this one? I do wonder if there isn’t just a smidgen of snobbery when it comes to these type of films especially from the more learned press ( yes you at the Guardian. ) These critics have no trouble wading through tiresome films, plays, novels about the whinging middle classes, heaping glowing praise upon their creators ability to convey such meaning from such little action. They can unlock the most impenetrable prose and poetry heaping yet more accolades upon creations that are beyond the understanding of mere mortals. They can even follow, and somehow stay interested, in who and what the bloody hell is going on in War and Peace or the ponderous À la recherche du temps perdu, yet they can not follow the simple plot of a good old fashioned action/adventure yarn? I think not.
I’m not an inverted snob, far from it. I enjoy a challenging tale, complex characters, political intrigue, difficult language. I’ve read Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Auden, Elliot, blah, blah, blah, you get the idea. But I would never dream of judging an adventure film by the same criteria that I would judge a literary classic. John Carter should be judged alongside its peers such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and whilst it lacks Tolkien’s scope and richness it more than holds its own along side Star Wars, not including the prequels which it obviously trashes.
John Carter is a brilliant, exuberant romp, full of huge landscapes, high octane action and a wonderful old-world charm that harks back to the Saturday morning cinema serials. There’s romance, betrayal and vengeance. There’s giant white apes, there’s the beautiful Lynn Collins, the rugged Taylor Kitsch ( shit, that’s his real name ) and Willem Defoe as a blinking twelve foot, four armed, green alien! Come on guys, what more could you want? Obviously there are a few Brits in there, after all who are you going to get to play the villains? Mark Strong and Dominic West make very enigmatic wronguns but am I the only one who’s getting tired of Brits always playing scum bags in blockbusters. For God’s sake America, you won the War of Independence get over it.
I think it’s a real shame that people haven’t turned out to see this. Disney were planning on doing a number of sequels but rumour has it they’ve pulled the plug on the back of poor ticket sales in the States, so it’s up to us Europeans to show those slack jawed Yanks what they’ve been missing and get out there and put bums on seats.
I went to see this expecting to be disappointed. I went because my lad wanted to. I was prepared to mumble it was ‘Ok’ to him as we left. It was so great to walk out feeling none of those things other than puzzlement at how wrong the critics can get it.
You want old style, action, adventure and romance then go see John Carter, you’ll love it.