Top 25 SF And Fantasy Films of 2012

25 John Carter

Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton

Poor old John Carter, a film which will forever be synonymous with the word flop. Not quite the Heaven’s Gate of sci-fi cinema – it didn’t bring down the company (Disney knew it had Avengers up its sleeve anyway, and didn’t seem too worried about writing off this expensive vanity project) – it nevertheless made a Michael Cimino out of Andrew Stanton; he entered the film as one of Hollywood’s hottest directors and exited it as a laughing stock with a reputation for excess, reluctantly forced to make a follow-up to his biggest success, Finding Nemo. His confrontational style when it came to any less than glowing comments about the film in promotional interviews didn’t help win him many friends either.

And poor old Taylor Kitsch, who must have entered 2012 thinking this was his year; he was the star of two hugely expensive potential blockbusters (Battleship being the other one) which fell flat at the box office.

But not so poor us, the audience. Because although hardly anyone went to see it, those that did were pleasantly surprised to discover that John Carter was actually not that bad. Deeply flawed, sure: overlong, tortuously plotted, ponderous where it should have zipped along, hampered by Kitsch’s hollow central performance and set on a Mars that looked uncannily (and often dully) like Arizona with CG knobs on.

It was also, perhaps, a little too slavishly loyal to its source material. Pre-publicity for the film kept trying to ram home how Star Wars owed much to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s pulp novels, but audiences didn’t care about that. They just saw a load of Stars Wars tropes being trotted out again, with less interesting characters.

But there was fun to be had. The four-armed Tharks were marvellous motion-capture creations, with the actors’ subtle performances shining through. Lynn Collins was a fantastic feisty princess. There was a stunningly-realised walking city. The action scenes were amazing. And the comedy alien dog – despite looking like a potential Jar Jar in the trailers – was actually cute and funny.

John Carter is not a work of flawed genius that French film critics will rediscover in 30 years’ time and hail as a classic. It’s more of a flawed folly, crippled by very odd, somewhat self-defeating creative decisions from the outset (why no “Of Mars?”). But at times it is great pulpy, sci-fi action that’ll be fun to watch on TV on soggy Sunday afternoons for years to come.

Dave Golder