At the expense of sounding like a sellout: Disney Plus is awesome. All of Star Wars, all of Marvel, most of the cartoons I watched as a kid, and 30 seasons (about 6 good ones) of The Simpsons all in one place. It’s great!
Look, I’m just the Greatest Living Author not some great, grand moral authority. I’m not going to say “You absolutely need to subscribe to Disney Plus to live your life to the fullest.” It’s your money, spend it how you want. I will just say that there are probably worse ways you could be spending it.
Of course, there are also better ways to spend your money. Hint, hint.
And it’s thanks to Disney Plus that I finally got the chance to watch a couple of movies that I — and pretty much everyone else — missed the first time around.
Specifically, 2012’s John Carter and 2013’s The Lone Ranger.
Full disclosure — neither of them are great movies, but neither are necessarily Worthy of Being Biggest Flop of All Time Bad.
They are both deeply flawed in plenty of ways, but they’ve both got more good aspects than bad aspects. They can both be easily viewed once and then forgotten about, but they’re at least good ways to spend an afternoon, or to have on in the background while doing something you actually care about.
People like to point out that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt and running out of new ideas, but the go-to plan is rebooting and updating older stuff. I don’t necessarily agree that Hollywood is necessarily any more creatively bankrupt than it’s ever been — there are only so many ways to tell a story, after all. Honestly, I don’t put much stock in the whole “modern culture has no new ideas”, um, idea, partly because the notion itself goes back at least as far as the Bible.
On the other hand, the whole “new version of old stories” thing is probably the biggest problem facing both John Carter and The Lone Ranger.
For one thing, they seem like very weird choices for old stories to make new versions of in the first place.
Was anyone really clamouring for a John Carter movie? Look at it this way: is this the first time you’ve ever even heard the name “John Carter”?
Incidentally, did you know that Tarzan started out as books?
Well, Burroughs also did Barsoom, centring around John Carter of Mars, a Civil War veteran, specifically a Confederate veteran (I know, I know; the stories were first written in 1912, being associated with the Confederacy was viewed a lot less distastefully) who ends up transported to Mars — “Barsoom” being the Martian name for Mars.
From there, Carter basically becomes Conan in space. The stories themselves are pretty typical of Pulp SciFi and Fantasy stories: a beautiful princess who doesn’t wear much clothes, evil kings, giant monsters, lost civilisations. Burroughs’ Mars is, however, delightfully weird and he actually manages to do something substantial with the whole “Earthling on Mars” thing in the stories.
Carter is basically super-powered on Mars because his body is used to the higher gravity of Earth. Essentially, he’s functionally stronger than anyone on Mars because his body can do less work to get more result. It’s sort of like how everyone in Dragon Ball Z always wore weighted clothes or that time Goku trained in, like, eight million percent gravity to make himself stronger.
So, the original gave Disney plenty to work with, but I think the obvious question to ask about this is: Does anyone care about a Barsoom movie?
Apparently, the answer was “no”, not helped by the fact that the marketing was apparently a nightmare and a mess of mixed messaging. For one thing, dropping “Mars” from the title and burying the lede about eight miles underground.
“John Carter of Mars” makes it pretty obvious that it’s a SciFi movie, and perhaps raises the question of “Who’s John Carter? Why’s he on Mars?”. On the other hand, “John Carter” is just some dude’s name, and is, like, the most generic, uninteresting name for a protagonist possible and the question becomes “Who’s John Carter? Why should I care?”
Now, the movie itself is, like I said, a solid way to pass an afternoon. It does a good job of translating the weirdness of Burroughs’ Mars to a visual medium. The cast is at least adequate — Willem Dafoe, for example, plays a big, green alien, Carter himself is Taylor Kitsch, which means he’s CanCon, the action setpieces are all pretty cool.
On the other hand, it’s probably at least half an hour too long and the plot is kind of a mess, introducing too many elements of life on Burroughs’ Mars to fully explain them all satisfactorily. But, like I said at the start, there’s more good than bad and it’s at least worth watching once.
Most of those criticisms also apply to Disney’s version of The Lone Ranger, especially the movie being too long. It’s two-and-a-half hours long. Very few movies need to be that long, especially goofy cowboy movies.
And, again, there’s the issue of “Who is asking for this movie?”.
Sure, The Lone Ranger is a venerable, well-established franchise that’s carved out its place in Pop Culture across generations. For example, I guarantee that you recognise the theme song and that you know that the Lone Ranger is the one who says “Hi-ho Silver, away!”. On the other hand, The Lone Ranger is best-known as radio and film serials, genres that haven’t really been relevant (or even existed) for decades.
So, yeah, maybe the search for a fresh, new franchise to resonate with Young People should have looked elsewhere than a property than peaked in the ’30s…
Though, again, yes, the movie’s got problems, but it’s still entirely adequate enough to merit a watch. Though, if you’re a little uncomfortable about the whole “Johnny Depp as Tonto” thing, you’re not the only one. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it, other than it being eyebrow-raising by pretty much any metric.
And, for any aspiring filmmakers out there, John Carter and The Lone Ranger are excellent examples of how not to produce and market a movie. I don’t really want to say “how not to make a movie”, because the actual movie-making aspects of both of them are at least entirely adequate.
It’s everything else that’s the problem.
The real sad part is, neither of these movies deserved to flop as hard as they did, but it’s not hard to see why it happened.
But now’s your chance to show them a little love.