I'm going to do a little series within a series here. Fridays in June will be dedicated to flops. Now, a flop is not necessarily a bad movie, but it usually means it's a flawed one. I aim to talk about the ones that I think deserve a second look.
Today, our subject is John Carter, the doomed, doomed, dooooooomed 2012 adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. People get irrational about this movie; Owen Glieberman, the film critic for Entertainment Weekly, called it the worst film of 2012. Come now. John Carter isn't even the worst Taylor Kitsch movie that came out in 2012, not in a world where Battleship was something that happened. (The aliens shot the battleships with pegs. They used pegs.)
Someone could write a book about all the ways the marketing of this film was screwed up; and hey, someone has. But we're not here to talk about the marketing. Or the title. (Though calling this movie just plain John Carter is like taking Raiders of the Lost Ark and calling it Henry Jones, Junior instead.) I want to talk about what's good about this movie.
To be honest, it takes a while. I'm going to throw it out there that if you need to perform an infodump at the outset of your movie, it's better that it come from Lynn Collins and not heavily accented CGI Martian Willem Dafoe. The first 45 minutes are kind of a mess. Dominic West is bad! Mark Strong is more ambiguously bad! John Carter hates everyone! What the hell is Bryan Cranston doing there? But it starts to come together when John and Dejah meet up; Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins have a certain chemistry, and when he rescues her and she immediately rescues him back, it feels like the film's starting to get it together.
It really wakes up during this sequence, in which John takes on an army of Green Martians. The action is intercut with a flashback to John's life on Earth, where he buries his family. The editing here is really well done, and reminds me of some of the transitions from Watchmen; John thrusting his sword into an enemy becomes him plunging a shovel into the ground, digging a grave, and John kneeling by that same grave becomes him being buried by a horde of the Green Martians.
From there, the film's energy level doesn't flag, and the love story between John and Dejah is as compelling as the action sequences. I particularly enjoyed James Purefoy's performance as Kantos; we could have used more of him. For me, a big selling point is the score by Michael Giacchino; it's a big, sweeping thing, probably one of my favorites of his.
So, if you haven't seen it, give John Carter another look.