John Carter

Tuesday 11th March 2014

Contrary to the expectations created by the trailer for John Carter, there are actually several scenes in this film in which Taylor Kitsch wears clothes. To some of you this may come as a bitter disappointment. If that’s the case, never fear, because the scenes in which he wears nothing but a loincloth are far more numerous. Then there’s Lynne Collins, playing the Martian princess Dejah Thoris, who also wears next to nothing for most of the film (which I’m sure you’ll agree is not very regal). For a Disney film it sure feels like there’s a lot of flesh on display here. But this is an epic space adventure based on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan and lover of loincloths.

But John Carter is still a Disney film right? I mean, it has a princess. It has a villain who won’t intimidate anyone over the age of five. It has a loyal sidekick. It has many daring rescues. It has a rags-to-riches story. It has romance. It has comic relief. It has idealism. It’s insanely colourful and cartoonish. It’s ridiculous yet strangely endearing. Your kids will love it and you’ll probably watch it to the end while pretending you’re only there to make sure the children don’t change the channel to Playboy (and no one will believe you because your eyes were fixed on Princess Dejah’s cleavage the whole time).

But at the same time, John Carter is really violent. It’s full of swords, guns and fiery blue magic that disintegrates people. They get stabbed. They get shot. Arms are severed. One bro even gets decapitated in the heat of battle. But they’re all aliens, so it’s fine. No seriously look, their blood’s bright blue. Despite looking exactly identical to us in every way they have this one superficial difference. We have red blood, they have blue blood. They’re obviously aliens.

I don’t really have a problem with the blue blood; they’re aliens, why shouldn’t they have blue blood? My problem is with the fact that the film tries so hard to humanise all the aliens and then uses the blue blood to remind us that they’re not really human SO IT’S FINE FOR US TO ENJOY WATCHING THEM DIE. I don’t normally have this problem with other science fiction films in which the aliens look like humans. The reason why it bothers me here is because what John Carter effectively says is that it doesn’t matter how similar to us a species might be, as long as there’s one little difference it’s fine to kill them. Disney are basically excusing the violence in the film by showing us that the victims aren’t human. Violence doesn’t count if they have blue blood. It’s fine for your twelve year old to watch someone’s arm get hacked off as long as their blood is not red. It’s not real violence unless they have red blood. In that case, why not digitally re-master Silence of the Lambs, turn the blood blue and re-release it as a 12 certificate? Fun for all the family.

Are Disney really teaching our children that it’s acceptable to kill someone because they’re a bit different? This becomes more cutting in the case of John Carter when we take into account the early scene in which American soldiers open fire on a group of Apache Indians without provocation. The scene might seem innocent enough but our hero John Carter then saves the American Colonel from the angry Indians who are really just defending themselves. Of course, the Colonel was previously humane in his treatment of Carter despite the fact that the soldier abandoned his post, going AWOL to search for gold in the desert... I’m not entirely sure that a kind word and a night in the cells was the typical punishment for deserting during the Civil War, but hey, it’s Disney; America’s the good guy. So it’s fine for the American soldiers to shoot the Indians, as long as they’re nice to each other...

Another scene which puzzled me was the one in which John Carter has flashbacks of his dead family, apparently senselessly killed in the Civil War. The death of his wife (or whoever) has taken away his taste for battle. He has said several times prior to this moment that he’ll never fight again and that no good ever comes from war. The flashback of his dead family is supposed to make us sympathetic towards him but bizarrely it prompts him to jump off his trusty alien steed to face down a horde of hundreds of alien Tharks. He kills at least fifty Tharks just to buy a little time for Princess Dejah to escape. So, Carter is moved by his terrible memories of the horrors of war into COMMITTING A SMALL GENOCIDE... just to save a woman he wants to bone (but can’t because this is Disney). The fact that the Tharks are aliens and therefore probably deserve to die because they’re not like us would probably be enough to excuse this slaughter... if it wasn’t for the fact that Carter has already befriended a few Tharks who are incidentally pretty decent folks. And the fact that he later makes a rousing speech to the Tharks to appeal to their human side and recruit them into a war he’s fighting because he wants to bone the very same woman (but can’t because this is Disney). So war is wrong and it’s a waste of life... unless you’re in it to impress a girl... especially a Martian Princess in a furry bikini. Then it’s fine to murder half a tribe of folks who were minding their own business until you pissed them off. It’s also fine to then recruit their kin into your army so you can exploit them into killing a bunch of other people who are also different. But let’s not lose sight of the message here; war is wrong.

And of course, remember that any aliens who happen to be smoking hotties with sparse wardrobes should not be killed. They should be lusted over, flirted with and wooed... but never boned... because this is Disney. And they would never expose your kids to something so morally reprehensible.

I was going to say at the beginning of this review that John Carter is a lot like Conan the Barbarian but with a wholesome Disney message of love and family values at its core... after all the Disney film has all the loincloths and adventure but none of the violence or sex... but actually you’d be better off letting your kids watch Conan, because he may love to crush his enemies, see them driven before him and hear the lamentation of their women, but at least Conan’s honest about it. John Carter wants all the murder, mayhem and sex that Conan gets but he wants to do it with a 12 certificate so your children can enjoy it with him. What a bastard.

Having said all of that, the cast is pretty impressive: Kitsch manages to deliver some very hammy dialogue without being too irritating; Collins manages to occasionally tear your eyeballs out of her cleavage long enough to glance at her face using only the power of acting. Dominic West is entertaining but not very threatening as the camp and ineffectual villain who’s seeking to rule the whole of Mars and get into Princess Dejah’s tiny pants. I didn’t recognise the voice of Willem Dafoe at all but according to the credits he plays the king of the Tharks. Bryan Cranston is excellent as the beleaguered Civil War Colonel who captures Carter at the beginning; their few scenes are the funniest in the film as Carter repeatedly tries to escape before finally throwing himself handcuffed through a window.

The film is also visually spectacular; the artwork is what you’d expect of Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo, Wall-E and A Bug’s Life. The battle scenes are frantic but never confusing. The bizarre alien aircraft are impressive in size and we really feel it when they clash. The big, green, four-armed Tharks and the giant white ape creatures in the gladiatorial arena are lovingly rendered in fantastic detail.

I could say a lot of nice things about John Carter. I could describe it as ‘an enjoyable romp’ or ‘a swashbuckling adventure.’ But I won’t. Because it’s really a violent, sexualised, adult film masquerading as a children’s adventure yarn. Giving people blue blood so that you can sneak a whole lot of murder past the censors is really a dirty move by Disney. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Ichi The Killer as much as the next man, but I wouldn’t let a twelve year old watch it. Shame on you Disney. Ironically, I think if they’d cut out the anti-war moralizing, made all the alien blood red, thrown in a few sex scenes or a nip-slip from Princess Dejah and sold John Carter as a 15 certificate it probably would have fared a lot better at the box office. Serves you right for trying to poison the minds of our children Disney.

p.s. Incidentally, if anyone at Disney actually reads this; when is that Deadpool movie coming out?

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