Nonstop Movies: ‘John Carter’

I cannot recall the last time I wanted a movie to end so badly so I could leave. Watching “John Carter” was such an excruciating exercise in tolerance that the theater felt like a prison cell. I felt so liberated walking out that I was tempted to strip off my shirt and raise my hands to the sky a la Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Yes, I am exaggerating (just slightly), but only because it’s been such a long time since I disliked a movie so much.

The story of an outsider thrown into the middle of a war and forced to choose sides in a battle not his own has been told countless times in cinema, so “John Carter” had to bring something new to stand out. Unfortunately, all the audience gets is a retread of past science fiction films, mixed in with bad acting, an overbearing score and a confusing and ridiculous storyline.

Taylor Kitsch plays Carter, a man in the post Civil War era searching for a cave of gold. After finding the cave, he discovers a mysterious medallion and is magically whisked away to the planet Mars, where various groups are fighting for control of the planet. Carter then becomes the mightiest warrior on the planet simply because… he can jump really high. Yes, that’s right. His ability to defy the laws of gravity on Mars somehow transforms him into a fighting machine, able to fend off and kill hundreds of aliens at a time.

It’s never explained how this simple man from Earth suddenly becomes a master of the sword and the battlefield, but just add that to the list of all the other inexplicable moments. Why is there a gateway to Mars from Earth in the first place? Why can John Carter all of a sudden understand the alien language? How can characters be immortal if they can be killed by a simple gunshot wound? And I’ve never heard so much gibberish in a film. Alien names and words are thrown at you constantly, and it got so confusing as to who or what everyone was talking about that I simply didn’t care anymore. The ridiculousness of the plot is beyond laughable.

The level of acting doesn’t help either. Kitsch is bland and forgettable as the lead, and Lynn Collins who plays a princess on Mars shrieks most of her lines as if she were in some cheap horror movie. Mark Strong is passable as the villain, but we’ve seen him play the mysterious bad guy already so many times before (“Green Lantern,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Kick-Ass”). There isn’t a single likable or memorable character in the film.

Sometimes a film’s score can be so prominent that it almost becomes another character in the film, and in the case of the score by Michael Giacchino, it’s yet another character I’d like to forget. Giacchino has done marvelous work in other films such as “Super 8,” “Up,” and the TV show “Lost,” but his score in “John Carter” is so blunt and overbearing, never letting up. His blaring symphonic themes got to be so loud and distracting that I wished there were a mute button so I didn’t have to hear them anymore. Not to mention that the entire movie sounded like an episode of “Lost.”

“John Carter” had me squirming in my seat and looking at my watch constantly. Watching the film felt like and eternity, and I couldn’t believe that only two hours had passed when I swiftly walked out of the theater. Disney has been hoping for another franchise film, but after the failure of “Prince of Persia” and now “John Carter,” looks like it’s back to the drawing board.

“John Carter,” 132 minutes, is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.