Ambitious, Boring And in 3D
An ambitious sci-fi flick, “John Carter” is a Western action adventure with four-armed green guys with tusks, princesses with expanding bustlines and steampunk flying machines. And hey — it’s in 3D! John Carter, played by the aptly named Taylor Kitsch, is a renegade gold miner on Earth in the 1800s, a former Confederate cavalry officer now seeking treasure in Arizona. The Army wants him, however, and cleverly chases him up to the secret gold cave of the Martians. A Martian appears, looking more or less like the “before” picture in an ad for The Hair Club for Men, Carter kills him and for his trouble gets instantly transported from the arid Arizona desert wasteland to the arid Martian desert wasteland. It’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. Then Carter discovers that because of the different gravity he can’t walk very well, but boy can he jump. In fact, he spends the next two hours jumping. So, he had been getting chased by the Army and Apaches, but now he’s being chased by the green four-armed tusk people known as Yankee fans. Whoops, I mean Tharks. It gets a little “Planet of the Apes” here, with a good Thark leader (Willem Dafoe, I think) and an evil one. The bad guy is the one with the broken tusk. Somebody gives Carter a drink of something, which allows everybody to understand each other and also saves on subtitles, which are really annoying in 3D.About as annoying as trying to keep Thark — I mean, keep track — of the story here, which has way too much plot. See, the peaceful inhabitants of the city of Helium are taking a beating from the evil armies of Zodanga. The only way out is for the Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins) to marry Jimmy McNulty from “The Wire,” aka Sab Than, aka Dominic West.Of course Sab Than, the Zodangans and the evil but god-like Therns are going to doublecross Princess Dejah and the Heliumites, because they realize that “Princess Dejah and the Heliumites” would make a great name for a rock band, much better than “The Zodangans, featuring Sab Than.” Somehow or other, the Princess shows up at the Tharks’ place. She’s initially suspicious of Carter, but after a whole mess of plot she changes her mind, or...Wait for it...Changes her Dejah view. For some reason I have mercifully forgotten how Carter, Dejah and one of the Tharks wind up in a papyrus boat, paddling through the Grand Canyon and looking for Easter Island. Instead they find a giant toadstool thing that holds the Secret of Everything. (It’s blue.)So they have to go back and get the Tharks to come to the defense of Helium but before that could happen they have to go back to the Thark city in order to fight two giant fang-toothed four-armed white hairy ape things in Thark Stadium. Oh, I forgot. This whole thing is told in flashback, from New York in 1881. If you want to know why, go see the film, I’m done trying to explain it.We’ve got shape-shifters. Facial tattoos. Four-armed tusk people. Green pygmy hippos. A faithful dog, Martian style. Did you know the Martians call Earth “Jarsoom”? The Princess’s chest gets bigger as the film progresses. (There is an opportunity for another “Dejah view” joke here but it’s late and I’m tired.) When Carter kills the giant fang-toothed ape, and then the evil Thark leader, he is hailed by the multitudes. This gives new meaning to the term “blue blood,” because he is actually covered in, well, blue blood. From the white ape. I would like to report that when the Princess asks Carter if he will fight for Helium, he responds with something along the lines of “No, thanks. Uranium, maybe. My ranium, without a doubt. I could do this all day, Your Majesty, but it’s tough on my suspenders.”Alas, it is not the case. The film is uncontaminated by wit, excitement or interest. The 3D, which is now officially irritating, does nothing for the film, which is thoroughly tedious in any dimension.And my friend Dawn informed me afterward that there were a lot of Jesus references in the flick (besides the initials). I didn’t notice, mostly because I was busy yawning at this grandiose, pompous, and ultimately boring movie. “John Carter” is playing widely. It is rated PG-13.