It is unconscionable in 2012 for a movie to portray a white dude who infiltrates a non-white native culture and then turns out to be better at being a native than even the natives are. We've seen it for years, we saw it in Avatar and now we see this straight up white supremacy in John Carter. The title character, a former captain of the Confederate fucking Army, is ported over to Mars, where he encounters a race of four-armed green monster warriors. Because of his bone density (bone density!), he is innately superior, able to leap in massive bounds and thus can defeat legions of not-so-nice four-armed green dudes who confront him in orgiastic pilings-on. He is a super hero and his white skin is all the cape that he needs.
I am not familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs' beloved Barsoom books, so I cannot say whether John Carter does them justice. If they promote the idea of the white man's innate heroism and superiority, however, they are some bullshit and they deserve this piss-poor Disney film adaptation, if not worse. I can say for certain that transplanting this universe from print to film is not without immediate unintentional humor: Barsoom (the Martian word for "Mars" here) sounds way too much like "bazoom" when it is said out loud. I kept thinking about that awful woman Henrietta in Showgirls whose tits popped properly only with Nomi's assistance.
There's a lot of really stupid vocabulary specific to John Carter. There is a Martian city-state called Helium, and when another race (made up mostly of white people) kept talking about "saving Helium" at the beginning of the film, I thought they were discussing the element and could not figure out why it was so crucial. Maybe one of them really, really liked balloons, I thought. Like, liked them-liked them. Maybe they were planning a birthday party. That would have been more fun than John Carter's central demand of its audience to parse out dialogue over perpetually swelling music in some of the worst sound mixing I've ever experienced. But then, when I realized that the people were just babbling nonsense words anyway, I figured I wasn't missing anything.
Soon after arriving on Mars, John is given some elixir that allows him to understand the Green Martians' language. Mostly, it just cures the movie of subtitles, since the white people who already live on Mars only speak in English, even before the elixir is administered. Nothing in their speech is altered by John's taking of the elixir and they can freely communicate with the Green Martians, as well. I can't even figure out where the logic is there (other than allowing us the satisfaction of watching savages assimilate to our ears on their own fucking planet). The Green Martians are still capable of speaking in Martian or Barsoomic or whatever it's called, however, as we hear in prayers and various other mutterings throughout. So the elxir is more a Band-aid than a cure, I guess.
Also on the linguistic tip, when John Carter meets Dejah Thoris, the human object of his affection who kind of looks like Hoopz rendered as a Disney princess, we find out that there are still plenty of vocabulary differences. Planet names, for example, differ on Earth and Mars, although Dejah refers to everything as the "solar system" so somehow the stars aligned for that phraseology to be universal.
I know that many of these are minor points and that science fiction demands a suspension of disbelief. I don't know that John Carter is at terms with its own logic. Right up front we're told that Mars is not the airless or dead planet that we think it is, "but it is dying." So we're almost right, I guess? Great excuse for a story, righting our half-wrongs with racism.
I also don't really know what this movie is about. Opposing forces, I guess? Going from Point A to Point B through the desert on a Tauntaun knock-off with no name? Sword play in a time of aircraft technology that exceeds what we currently have on Earth by thousands of years? A cave of gold? A script whose first uttered word is "Mars!" that then goes on to deliver bon mots like, "Where on Earth am I?" and "I claim the right to challenge!" and "War is shameful thing!" and "We are strong because we despise weakness"?
This movie is a pile of shit. I liked John's flat-faced dog side-kick because he reminded me of Winston, and I look forward to cutting together a supercut of all of the instances of people saying "John Carter" throughout this movie because they say it so much. It stops making sense and, like most of what comes out of people's mouths in this movie, is merely just noise.
I also reviewed Silent House for this week. Surprise, surprise, I also hated that, much to my dismay. I would love a good horror movie right about now, and I love to love Elizabeth Olsen. Ugh. I wish a good movie would come out. Right now, my favorite movie of the year so far is The Vow. Fucking The Vow!