This is neither faint praise nor a lame attempt to connect a pre-Superman hero with all that came after. It’s an assertion of how I felt watching John Carter. The boy liked it quite well, too; he was completely sucked in, and had some good questions like, “Why does he keep falling over like that?” and “Is there air on Mars?”
Anyway. The post title, as much as it harkens back to Superman with Christopher Reeve specifically, is also about the effects in John Carter generally. In a movie made up of, probably, something like 95% effects shots, there was only one short sequence where I thought, “hey, that guy must be computer generated!” The rest of the effects are, or–at least to my eyes–were, invisible. I mean, obviously, I could see them–those four-armed green guys, as a fer-instance. And those ships that fly on light–very cool looking, yes. Also, all Disney movies need a cute animal cavorting around helpfully annoying the hero and crew, and it’s all the better that the, if you’ll accept the word, dog was in the source material (if probably not as cute).
But this is no mere effects movie. There’s a Story. It is, alas, a pretty typical Story of a Man Out of Sorts with the World Saved by the Love of a Good (if Conniving) Woman, though very well-constructed within those bounds, since pretty much every element gets cross-referenced to do at least two of these three things–drive the plot, display character in action, or take your breath away; the Story is one which carries forward, somewhat transcends, and somewhat wallows in, the source material. For instance: the women, in addition to being not naked in the movie, are also presented as competent, fully rounded (stay out of the gutter!), and equal participants in a complex para-modern society (unless you happen to be a Princess of Mars, in which case you run the risk of getting married off in a political deal to keep your dad alive).
That’s the transcending part. Honestly.
As for wallowing: watch out for the Civil War back-story which provides the, alack, pretty typical motivation driving John Carter’s actions. There’s a lot of deep conversation about this at Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’s blog at The Atlantic‘s site. I’m not going to get into it in any detail here, since, ‘no research,’ and all. Go read it.
But, without getting into it, I do want to point out that the Civil War stuff was dropped pretty quickly in the books, and that it plays out across the entire movie. And this is a bit of a problem. Not a huge problem, maybe. And, on the whole, it’s probably balanced out by the up-powering of the women in the story. If you’re the sort who tries to balance all that sort of thing.
If you’re not that sort though, it’s a good fun movie, with lots of good running around, and flying, and a little bit of jokeiness, and probably just about all the blue blood you’ll ever need, and even that serves to move the plot forward, and the movie will probably hold up well over time. And the trick John Carter plays on his nephew to make him draw the bad guys out at the end is a beaut. Even now!