Wednesday, May 30, 2012
For better or worse, John Carter is a pulp serial in the form of a feature, more akin to Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean (or Flash Gordon and The Lone Ranger) than the chesty historical adventures of the past few years. Taylor Kitsch may look like a classical era hero, what with his loincloth-and-strappy-leather ensemble, but he’s the very model of a modern reluctant warrior, having disengaged from the world after suffering Civil War losses revealed in some of John Carter’s most stunning passages. You can see where this hero’s journey is headed, but it’s worth remembering Edgar Rice Burroughs has a few decades on Joseph Campbell.
The genre trappings produce this long, serial, Victorian travelogue (down to its nagging interventionist message) from the Reconstruction West to a Martian desertscape enduring war among its three societies. Because of the episodic structure, Andrew Stanton sometimes has time for terrific sequences like Carter learning to walk and communicate in this strange land, but other segments are padded with lifeless royal melodrama, and at least one cut jumps over vital narrative information. But the basic conceit—out of one hole and into another—makes for a ripping yarn grounded by pulp roots and as much physical art design as possible. Airships skirmish and gladiators fight monsters and higher powers influence events. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll yawn.
But then, after the major action on Mars is resolved, comes a scene on Earth with wrenching insight. Kitsch struggles mightily against a dreary cave, his whole extraordinary other life wrenched from him. Zapping from a fantastical palace to a drab gray rock, it's like waking up from a dream, not just for Carter but for the audience. It makes breathlessly clear that the two hours spent on Mars are two hours we won't get back. It’s positively transcendent. After a long, beautiful, boring adventure, that one moment realizes the transportive magic of escapist fiction, crystallizing the entire endless journey into a glorious testament to pulp fiction.
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 5:49 AM