John Carter (2012)
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Bryan Cranston
Director of Photography: Daniel Mindel
Music by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen
Written by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews & Michael Chabon
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Rating: 6 out of 10
John Carter is a decent, messy movie that throws too many things at the audience while offering too few really appealing aspects to make it worthwhile. It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be but it certainly wasn’t really anything special either. The effects move from interesting to obvious, the acting is okay at best as no one really stands out, the plot is convoluted and the movie’s mood also alternates between pathos, comedy, action brawl and sci-fi standard. It is amazing yet again how a movie can be made for hundreds of millions of dollars, developed over decades and still leave such a little mark, not only in film history (besides being seen as a disastrous flop), but also for the audience. I can hardly imagine remembering much of this movie in a year or two.
What certainly doesn’t help is the movie’s central female character, Dejah Toris, as played by Lynn Collins. There is some potential in her character but the movie doesn’t know what to do with her. It opens with a deceiving shot of her as a princess delivering some solemn monologue but then breaking into laughter at herself because she is just practicing being solemn. It is a very interesting choice, showing her as not simply a stereotype but as a human being. It is a promising start as she seems to be more than just some princess we have seen before.
The movie tries to expand that point by showing Dejah attempting to be something like a scientist, as she thinks she has a solution for the war on her planet. While she seems to know what she is talking about, her presentation is incomprehensible for the viewer and she basically just says, “Hey, I have something powerful here. And it is blue.” It doesn’t really make the case that she is smart or anything.
In a confrontation with her father (Ciarán Hinds), who comes off as surprisingly weak, she mostly makes a convincing stand against him, but in the end he still tells her that she has to marry the bad guy to achieve piece. It is a classic trope, the princess marrying the villain which has to be stopped by the end of the film. Will she go through those motions here, as she seems to be quite independent?
As the villain (Dominic West, totally out of place) goes through another attack, Dejah attempts to stop him single-handedly by taking one airship but while we might start to enjoy her taking this initiative, the ship crashes and instead we get another shot of a woman holding on to something so she doesn’t fall, screaming and being rescued by a man. The man is John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and so the first time they meet (after 45 minutes!) is a situation where he has to save her.
As if the movie knows it screwed up, the very next scene Carter tells her to stand behind him while he fights the soldier but through a ridiculous accident (of which the movie is full of) she gets a sword and proves she can fight too. Cue Carter: “Uh, maybe I ought to get behind you.” You can so clearly see what they are trying to do but it’s clumsy and, worse, doesn’t hold up at all for the rest of the movie. Seconds later she watches him doing his high jump, amazed and impressed by this hero.
After many scenes of her explaining things and them making flirty deals, there is a moment where he is annoyed by her and leaves her behind, so she has run after him, screaming and eventually breaking down to confess: “Yes, I ran away. I was afraid… weak.” The scene ends with her taking his hand to get up again, emphasizing again that she needs him and that she cannot solve her problems on her own.
Not for long and she tells him about dreams about a man coming to save everyone and all of it turns even more flirtatious as the power dynamics of the weak, helpless woman and the strong, reluctant man become the basis for a relationship, confirming all our common stereotypes.
But because he is so reluctant (he is a man, after all, also unable to really free himself of the constraints of our cultural gender roles), she decides to go through with the marriage, which sets up the movie’s finale, which of course consists of him rescuing her, again and again and again. To hear her say “Carter!” when he crashes the ceremony has the sound of all the relief of a woman who can do nothing about her fate but waiting for one man to rescue her from another.
And then we have more victim shots of her being pulled into the air, dangling. She frees herself, all alone, just to fall down (she didn’t think it through) so Carter can rescue her mid-air, Superman-style, just yet again.
There are some quick shots of her taking a sword and fighting herself but not for long, she is overpowered by a version of herself (the villain is a shapeshifter). In a short fit of resistance she fights back only to be thrown of the railing, only to be yet again caught mid-air by Carter.
Deciding that being active doesn’t turn out well for her, Dejah resigns to telling Carter what to do at least, so she can stay back and wait until he returns to propose to her. Yes, after the big conflict of her to marry someone just to save her people she instead marries someone else to save her people. Which makes sense, since she is bound to fall off high things more often, so she needs someone to catch her at all times.
And that closes her character arc for this movie. Basically, she becomes domesticated over the course of the film. She appears to have some independence and talent at the beginning of the film, but at the end she is just glad to have found the right husband. But, hey, at least she swung her sword two or three times, that must be enough for a strong female character, right? Or maybe they were saving it for the sequel but that ship has sailed. Not really a pity.