This may be blasphemy coming from a movie critic, but forget what the critics are saying because "John Carter" is fun. Sitting in the dark with their notepads and watching a $250 million 3D adventure from Disney Studios, the reviewers may have expected something bigger, better, grander. But expectations have to be managed -- and don't you sometimes go to the movies just to be lost in another world without traffic, cell phones, and mothers-in-law?
Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor took aim at the budget: "The reported $250 million price tag for 'John Carter' gives one pause. I suppose one could argue that masterpieces have no price. Then again, 'John Carter' is no masterpiece."
Does it have to be?
"John Carter," based on the prescient sci-fi novel Edward Rice Burroughs penned in 1912 -- when writers were still using pens and a half-century before man would walk on the moon -- is an eye-popping 3D adventure. It's best watched with popcorn, Slurpee, and an oversized bag of Sour Patch Kids. Like the old movie serials -- "Flash Gordon" or "Buck Rogers" -- the movie is only more entertaining when you see its movie-making guts -- the awful tanning makeup, the sexy heroine's tortured line readings, and the nascent CGI.
[Related: See showtimes for 'John Carter']
Does the movie sag a little? After mentioning its bloated budget and calling it "innocuous," damning by faint praise, Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail continued his takedown: "framed by a decent start and a solid finish but sagging through the long middle like a cheap mattress." I didn't think it sagged at two hours plus, but then I thought "The Artist" seemed a little long at just under 90 minutes.
Do those blue-blooded Martians recall Jar Jar Binks in "Star Wars"? Maybe. Bruce R. Miller of the Sioux City Journal asked: "What do you get when you combine Xena, Princess Warrior [sic], Jar Jar Binks, and a Civil War vet who jumps like a frog?" Even Jar Jar Binks might not have been so grating without his unique accent, and one problem of that character was his extreme difference in tone from the rest of the fetishized series. He just didn't fit. The same can't be said of the four-armed, tusked Martians of "John Carter." They have an appealingly dimensional leader in Tars Tarkas, played by no less than an unrecognizable Willem Dafoe, and they are integral to the story, not just loopy comic relief.
I would hate to see "John Carter" crash like a Martian airship when it's such a good experience at the movies -- and right now, it's critical that audiences still go to theaters rather than just stay in their family rooms with their increasingly sophisticated home systems.
My 16-year-old had one complaint: If you're going to make a movie with big airships, you want a big airship battle, not just guys clashing swords on the airborne decks like pirates escaped from the Johnny Depp "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. Point taken. We suggest better airborne combat next time -- although the killjoy critics, and the audiences who heeded their warnings, may not get a second chance.
See a ten-minute clip of 'John Carter':