What should one make of the movie John Carter? It features a leading man who gained minor fame as the breakout star of a niche TV show. Most of its action takes place on Mars and it is based on a story first published a hundred years ago. Oh yes, it is also considered one of the biggest flops of all time.

The story goes something like this: A young man named Edgar (Daryl Sabara) is summoned to his uncle’s estate in 1881. Edgar is informed that his uncle John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) has died under mysterious circumstances and that he has been entrusted with the dead man’s wealth.

As Edgar seeks explanations in his uncle’s journal he reads the fantastical tale of Carter’s adventures beginning in the old west and continuing on the Earth-like—but not—planet known as Barsoom.

He finds love when he falls for a princess named Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), allies in the four-armed Tharks and the ability to leap over tall mountain peaks in a single bound. He also comes up against a formidable enemy in the shape-shifting Matai Shang (Mark Strong) who is part of a race that orchestrates the ends of worlds.

Exciting, no?

There were times when I was bored during this movie. It could have been shorter, the filmmakers could have worked harder to make the world more distinctive and those weird words (Dotar Sojat, Jeddak, Zodanga…) served more as distractions than as world-enforcers.

But, it was also fun.

This movie has a certain needs-to-be-watched-on-a-lazy-Sunday-morning quality to it. It features an adventuring leading man, lots of sword fights, strange flying spacecraft, a feisty leading lady who is very handy with a sword—stuff that would appeal to young boys from a more innocent age.

Which is perhaps where the problem lies. We no longer live in an innocent age. Not those of us who can afford to watch this movie anyway. And this 100-year-old text has been plundered sixteen ways from Sunday by other creators who had the resources to make their own versions of this story before John Carter finally lit up movie screens around the world (Jeddak/Jedi, anyone?)

So while I had fun watching this movie, I cannot say with any conviction that I would have give the green light to make such an expensive kids’ film.

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