John Carter is a broken man. He’s a man without a cause, a husband and father without his wife and child, and a hero with no conviction or foundation. Then one day everything he knows and believes changes… literally. After discovering a gold mine, Carter finds himself transported to the planet Mars where his bone structure, and the lighter atmosphere, gives him inhuman strength and the ability to jump incredible distances.
So what does John do with these newfound abilities? Well, first he tries to survive the alien race known as the Tharks and ends up catching the fancy of Tars Tarkas, landing him the responsibility of protecting Sola. That doesn’t go so well… Then he gets involved with the feisty princess of Helium who is being forced into a marriage for the sake of a peaceful alliance with the warring Sab Than that will save her people. And for some reason John can’t seem to get rid of the dog-like critter that keeps following him!
But the real question is not what does John Carter do with these new found abilities, but is he willing to take sides in a battle that is not his own?
Sacrifice. That is the theme of the movie. Over and over we see different characters sacrificing different things for others. We see Dejah willing to sacrifice her happiness in order to protect her people. We see Tars and Sola willing to sacrifice themselves for one another, but also for Carter. And Carter… we see that he has sacrificed much, and will continue to sacrifice much, by the end of the film.
Carter’s character is one of those that I love watching over and over again. In the beginning he only wants to get back to his cave of gold. The death of his wife and child scarred John and he never again wants to fight in someone else’s war. Then he meets Dejah. While Carter may be struck by the Princess immediately, literally and figuratively, he’s not about to let her distract him from getting back home. But over time Dejah’s character, and her willingness to sacrifice herself for her people, wears off on John. Her courage stirs the embers of his dying heroism into a burning flame, and by the end of the movie we see a John Carter who will go to great lengths, and overcome incredible odds, to save not only the beguiling Dejah, but also the whole of her people. This was the strongest element of the movie for me.
The relationships in the movie are also well done. Be it the bonds of family (John’s apparent love for those he has lost), the camaraderie of Tars Tarkas and John Carter, the mutual respect and love that grows between John Carter and Dejah, and even the man’s best friend relationship that unfolds between John and an alien critter, they all had something to add to the movie.
Consequently, I also enjoyed the stark contrast shown between the fatherly love that Tars has for Sola, and the lengths he is willing to go to protect her, and the love that Dejah’s Father has for her. We see Tars’ love is more aggressive. He will go to any lengths to save his child, including forfeiting his title and his life for her. Dejah’s Father, on the other hand, loves his daughter, but his love does not extend to protecting her at all costs. In fact, he is willing to give her over to a ruthless and villainous character in order to save his people. In the end both father’s did love their daughters, but we see a very different kind of love portrayed by each.
So, the biggest question I had going into the movie, and that I have heard other people express, is how revealing are Dejah’s clothes? It is no secret that the Novel, Princess of Mars, depicted the alien vixen in less than to be desired clothing. A Disney Movie, however, can’t get away with that, for which we are grateful. Dejah’s outfits certainly expose plenty of skin, her thighs often revealed, and we have the typical cleavage to be found in Hollywood, but on the whole Dejah’s clothing isn’t in your face. The filmmakers could have focused in on the princess’ clothing, reminding us of it constantly, but instead they used camera shots that minimized the skin her outfits revealed, as a whole. In addition, Carter often goes shirtless in the movie, so personal preferences and tolerability will play a large part in whether or not you watch the film.
As for the romance (I assume, even if you haven’t read the book, that you all know this is a action/sci-fi/romance), Dejah does end up in Carter’s arms on more than one occasion, and we see the hero and his princess kiss and marry by the end of the film. We also see Dejah, after their wedding, in bed, but John is not with her. For the most part, it was a tame, well done romance.
Mars is centered around a monotheistic religion, but it is not of this world. All of Barsoom (Mars) seems to worship a Goddess named Issus. We see temples and pilgrimages made in her name, as well as a few prayers, but it was kept to a low roar and seemed very fantastical in its nature. The religion is magical in some ways, but is far more technologically driven, matching the Sci-Fi theme of the movie nicely. There are multiple references made to the religion, but we explore its intricacies little.
The worldview of the Thurns is something worth noting. Shang describes he and his fellow brothers as being influential in helping nudge worlds across the galaxy towards their demise. “History will follow the course we have set,” he says. “We don’t cause the destruction of a world, we manage it. Populations rise. Societies divide. Chaos spreads. Eventually, a population devours itself and slowly fades”. It’s a process Shang relishes in, finding great satisfaction in this job description.
Another disturbing worldview is that of the Tharks. Their culture is very detached, their eggs being raised in a hatchery so that no one knows whose child is really whose. Early on we see adult Tharks riffling through the newly hatched young, loading up the strongest of the batch and shooting the rest. Back at the camp we then see the female Tharks fight over who will own which of the surviving young. Tharks are also punished for wrong doing by being branded on their backs. Too many marks and the Thark is killed.
Violence is a given in a Sci-Fi adventure, but the violence is very futuristic, making it on the level with, if not less than, Lord of the Rings. The most disturbing imagery you will find is the arena fight where a white ape falls on top of Carter before our hero emerges out of the creature’s body, having cut his way through, covered in blue blood. Also worth mentioning is when Carter beheads a Thark (4 armed alien being) and the camera shows the head hit the ground.
The other question that often comes up is language, but I have to be honest with you, I can’t give an accurate account on this one. I watched the movie with my TV Guardian on (removes any language or uses of the Lord’s name in vain). I do know that there were a handful of times that the Guardian bleeped something out, but it didn’t seem very excessive. Also, by context, I assume the words used were h— and d—.
John Carter is far from the disaster it’s been made out to be in some circles. It’s artistically beautiful, the CG landscape and creatures nearly seamless. I heard one person describe the visuals of the movie as “an epic-scale production with visual-effects landscape so palpably real that it’s impossible to tell where actors and sets leave off and movie magic takes over.”
While the movie does start slowly, due to the need to cover a lot of back-story, it quickly gets rolling once we’re on Mars with Carter. I’m often one to guess how things are going to wrap up midway through a movie while I’m watching it. Not so with John Carter. None of my scenarios were working out well and the ending that was presented was not only brilliant, but very satisfying. They had me stumped all the way to the end, which is an impressive achievement.
What I love most about the movie, however, is that it’s the story of a man who had lost his way and needed his heroism renewed. John Carter has qualities that won’t let him bury the hero inside of him, and by the end we see that his deep-seated desire to protect people makes him stand strong in the end. Stanton (screenplay writer of John Carter and a Pixar Legend) is a subtle and sophisticated storyteller with a Pixarian’s understanding of how to build characters that stay with you.
For those reasons I would recommend this movie to any who have a desire to see it. Although, if you’re not a Sci-Fi fan this movie is not for you. A Princess of Mars was the Grandfather of Science fiction, so expect to see that throughout the movie.