Caught it this weekend. After I saw the film I searched around for a review that would reaffirm my view. I know it's not getting a lot of positive reviews, but I found one I really liked. This is the one that got it close for me.
You can take the boy out of Pixar, but can you take Pixar out of the boy? That question was raised last year by Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol and now by John Carter, the first two big live-action films to be directed by members of Pixar's enviable stable of writer/producer/directors. The provisional answer, I'm happy to report, is no—or at least, not entirely.
The Pixarian in question this time is Andrew Stanton, who, in addition to directing Finding Nemo and Wall-E, essentially served as the studio's in-house screenwriter on its first five films, and has played some role (executive producer, voice actor) in every Pixar film save Cars 2. As a movie, John Carter is not near the level of Stanton's Pixar work—but then, how could it be? The studio's magic is in large part the result of its collaborative ethos and the animators' freedom from the demands of a live-action shooting schedule. Still, the modest charms of John Carter are another reminder that Pixar's success is due not merely to a triumph of process, but to a collection of exceptional individual filmmakers.
The plot is not a selling point. But the film understands that, at the end of the day, we are there to have fun. The first installment of the John Carter saga, upon which the movie is loosely based, was penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame) 100 years ago. Entitled Under the Moons of Mars when it was first published serially, and retitled A Princess of Mars when it was later released as a novel, it is an ur-text of modern genre fiction—pulp, science, fantasy, and superhero—an important forebear not only of Superman but of Brave New World as well. It is, however, by any objective measure, an awful book: inert in style, haphazard in plot, and woefully, annihilatingly devoid of humor. Given such source material, Stanton's John Carter might easily have been the kind of glum, tooth-clenchingly self-serious "entertainment" of which we have seen so much in recent years.
But it's not. Rather, Stanton embraces the inescapable ridiculousness of his premise and adds several additional doses of likable whimsy.
I certainly wasn't expecting a LoTR kind of presentation, so I felt like I got what I paid for. Good entertainment for my money.