Both a notoriously expensive film to make and an equally infamous film box office flop, “John Carter” is not without flaws. The movie can’t escape the trappings of the white savior of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ source material, “A Princess from Mars,” and its world-building is a little wonky at times. On top of that, Andrew Stanton’s film (which he co-wrote with ‘Brave’ co-director Mark Andrews and ‘Spider-Man 2’ scribe Michael Chabon) would rather you not linger about the fact that John fought for the Confederacy (!) and all that this may imply on him.
With those caveats out of the way, there’s an underlying (if you’ll pardon the pretentious wording) cinematographic quality to “John Carter” that has allowed it to stand the test of time better than other tent poles of 10 years ago, in terms of visuals alone. Stanton’s background in animation shines through in the film’s best scenes, such as a waggish montage where John stages several escape attempts after being captured by Union soldiers. An equally playful and inventive sequence later in the film shows John as he awkwardly adjusts to Mars’ weak gravity, slowly realizing he can leap great distances across the Red Planet.
Working with cinematographer Dan Mindel (“Star Trek,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Stanton combines the gritty textures of a western with the striking aesthetics of a pulp sci-fi epic. , making the film’s fantasy vision of Mars more vivid and tactical. By mixing real-world locations in southern Utah with studio sets and green screens, “John Carter’s” spectacle also comes across as expansive enough for an interplanetary narrative of this nature. Compared to the directors behind some recent projects over $200 million (not to name names!), Stanton has delivered a lot more with the dollars Disney has given him.