A US cavalry officer is accidentally transported to Mars where he encounters a warring civilisation who require his help to end the conquest of their world by a brutal warlord.
When talking about cynical marketing campaigns, it’s usual to point to terrible films that become big hits through licensing, advertising and sponsorship deals, but the other side of the coin is John Carter. To say that this film bombed at the box office would be an understatement of the highest order. Those responsible for the marketing of this film fumbled the ball on such a colossal scale that it couldn’t hope to recoup the reported budget of $250,000,000 despite the fact that it really isn’t all that bad.
It’s fair to say that you can see where the money was spent; it’s a very attractive film featuring some nice production design, spectacular set pieces and a quality cast. The problem with John Carter is that it doesn’t really capture the imagination in the way a large scale sci-fi adventure should. The culture created in the form of Barsoom is rather charmless and there’s little in the way of chemistry between what should be the epic romantic leads at its centre. There are also too many supporting characters who get too little screen time on their own making it hard to care about any of the protagonists. But by far the biggest blunder is in how seriously it takes itself; a little campiness and a self-deprecating sense of humour would have gone a long way to making the film a lot more likeable. The result is a po-faced cross between Flash Gordon and Xena: Warrior Princess with a big budget but having said all that, the pacey if somewhat episodic plot and large scale battle sequences maintain the interest for the duration.
As a whole it’s rather too clinical and soulless but John Carter didn’t deserve to sink without a trace and I’d much rather sit through it again than the tedious The Phantom Menace or the dismal Attack Of The Clones.