John Carter (of Mars)

I really want to write about Madicon weekend… the fun, the games, the Battletech Pink Slip tournament, demoing the Zpocalypse board game, and all the other Stuff(!) that went on but I’m still recovering… so today I thought I’d kick off this week talking about the last fun activity of the con weekend — seeing John Carter.

There might be spoilers in what follows. You have now been warned.

I’ve read some mixed reviews of the movie so far and I agree with points made both good and bad. For my own part, I really enjoyed myself seeing this movie and I’m debating seeing it again. I mean, I really enjoyed it.

The Good Stuff
It was beautiful to look at. The Tharks looked great, the costuming was excellent, the landscapes were stark and wondrous. Pretty much everything about the visuals was inspiring and awesome to behold. Did I mention the Tharks? Great. I liked the white apes, the therns, the set dressing, the airships, everything.

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the music as well but I’m going to say that I loved the soundtrack. I thought it was nicely understated and at several points I found myself thinking, “I’d play this during a game…”

The actors were all good for their parts, some really stood out and some were good but only worked with what was there for them… more on that in the bad. John Carter was well played as a slightly worn Civil War veteran who had lost his family. It was a different take on the character but one I could get behind. I live in Civil War country in Virginia and it’s still a period of our history we are conflicted about. I can understand why the writers of the film felt the need to approach the war as something that stained Carter. Lynn Collins was a stand out as Dejah Thoris. She was funny, serious, warm, fierce and just a little bit vulnerable too. And I appreciated that they chose an actress who is beautiful but perhaps not entirely conventionally so… I found her the most enjoyable character on the screen — EXCEPT — for Tars Tarkas. He really made me happy. I wish we’d had even more screen time with Tarkas. I found myself smiling a lot when he was on screen and that’s a good sign.

The story was a mish mash of bits from the original stories plus original material and I found it to be a good story except for a few noticeable things… The evolution of the character relationships was interesting, the conflict between Zodanga and Helium had potential. Honestly, we didn’t need the Therns at all and we could have had a much more interesting movie… which is a good place to jump into the bad stuff.

Bad Stuff
The Therns. The best thing I can say about the Therns is “erm.” The Therns were a problem for this movie. Not only would they have been better served by a sequel appearance instead of being in the first movie but they really didn’t work for me as used in this movie. Their master plan was somewhat incomprehensible. They wanted a marriage but honestly, the marriage was a sham… and they didn’t care about the marriage, just destruction… and then they’d move on to Earth… it was sorta messy and not well thought out. Seriously, cut the Therns, make the Zodanga/Helium conflict central to the story, put Helium more on the losing end, the marriage plot still works, and you can even drag in more parallels to the Civil War for Carter’s character. Better.

Dominic West (Sab Than) was a great villain… except that he wasn’t actually the villain. He had a really classy presence on screen and was dominating and interesting in equal measure. I would have loved to see him as the actual villain of the movie. He didn’t really have enough to do. I mean, the scene where he presents Dejah Thoris with his sword was fantastic but ultimately meaningless because he wasn’t the bad guy, he was just a tool. It hurt the movie.

And that’s the bit about working with what they had… I think this problem pervaded the movie. If the writers had stripped away the awkward Thern master plot and stuck with Carter, Thoris, Than, and the Tharks they would have been far better off. When those characters were on screen, interacting with each other the movie was great. Whenever one of the Super Science Power Bad Guys were on screen the movie would turn awkward.

Final Thoughts
Again, overall, the verdict of this movie for me is still really good. I enjoyed myself, I laughed and smiled a lot, I got into Carter and Thoris. I loved Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan. The movie was visually inspired. Really, there is a lot to love here. And it was a great adventure. But it suffered from the bolted on super-villains that just got in the way of the fun.

Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to tell you about Madicon… coming soon!

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