As much as I like big budget sci-fi films, there has been a sad trend lately where they all have to cost hundreds of millions of dollars with no substance, and many fall by this fact. In the case of John Carter of Mars, Disney set it up so that it would have to gross over 600 million smackaroos just to break even (!), a fact that makes me mad and reminds me that these Hollywood folks have no idea what they are doing. It’s no wonder that some of the better, more talented directors of our time have had to deal with smaller budgets in foreign markets and as a result have come up with better films. Recently we had District 9 from South Africa, District B-13 from France (neither are related ..lol), and a new movie (for me) called Attack The Block from Great Britain. These films struck me as far more endearing than a lot of recent big budget Hollywood sci-fi films in that they did not rely on cookie cutter action heroes, and looked a lot “cooler”, more vibrant, and more expensive than their Hollywood brethren.
Since I mentioned atypical heroes, nothing can get less “mainstream” than a gang of juvenile delinquents. And no I don’t mean the whitewashed leather jacket and cigarette smoking kind of delinquent found in many 90’s teen movies trying to be edgy (or the Fonze); we’re talking foul-mouthed criminals that deal drugs and get in fights. In fact, we first find our group of protagonists engaging in a mugging at knife point! In no way does the film try to glamorize this fact, or lessen the fact they these are generally bad people, and this becomes a big plot point in the film. This mugging is broken up by an alien crashing into a nearby car, to which our gang of reckless heroes kicks it’s skull in. what they don’t know is that their arrogant display of faux invincibility has brought repercussions that they couldn’t dream of. In their quest to make a ton of money selling the dead alien, they have unwittingly brought an alien invasion to their council tower block.
This plot set up vaguely reminds me of the initial set up for the immensely popular anime film Akira, in which a biker gang composed of drug dealers ends up saving the world. This always seems to work better for me than your normal action plot in that it has built-in character development. Why waste time coming up with a way to have your chiseled jawed dopey eyed action hero fall from grace, when you can have your heroes literally start out at the bottom of the barrel. Our main character Moses, as played by John Boyega, is struggling to avoid falling into the traps of organized crime within his community. He’s getting increasingly into worse activities like drug dealing via the local self-styled “boss” of the flats Hi-Hatz. He feels bad about trying to mug the aforementioned nurse Sam, and we follow the character as he “grows up” and realizes that there are always effects for the things you do.
Aside from the plot, Attack the Block succeeds in having a good-looking alien menace to contend with. Instead of human-like creatures we have a race of gorilla-wolf monstrosities with no eyes, glowing teeth, and shaggy black hair. The animalistic nature of these creatures coupled with the few gory scenes of people getting ripped out throats makes these guys fairly intimidating. Good thing our rag-tag gang of misfits has a ton of “teenager weapons” like Katanas bought off the internet, illegal fireworks, and super-soakers filled with gasoline.
Last, but not least, we can’t forget the great job in directing that Joe Cornish did. It was amazing to realize that this was actually his first big film, although he did help write the very awesome Tintin movie last year. Nothing is wasted in the direction, and it doesn’t feel padded out at all. The flashy up-tempo style reminds me a bit of other UK directors like Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie, but not so derivative that it seems like a copy. If Cornish decides to revisit this movie, I would love to see a sequel, as it ends in a sufficient manner to end the narrative, but leaves it open to more alien killing “badassery.”
Bottom Line: this has been on Starz lately here in the U.S., check it out!
Here’s a trailer from Youtube:
John Carter’s main problem was actually horrible marketing. I went to the film expecting something horrible and was very very pleased with it. Admittedly, I read the books so long ago that I only had a very vague memory of them. The movie should have done so much better. But they made a based on a little known title unless you were a rabid sci-fi fan or ERB fan. They somehow assumed the target audience would know who John Carter was and then didn’t understand why the majority of movie goers were a much older crowd. I also heard rumors that a first trailer for the film was so bad that the film never recovered. I’m rather glad I missed that trailer.
I agree, I loved John Carter in the theater! I’m actually mad that they will most likely not do any more sequels due to the loss they took. That original trailer is most likely the Super Bowl Ad they ran, if so it was a disatser. Instead of saying how old the story was or who wrote it, or even who the director was they just flashed up the name “John Carter” with a few clips….terrible job on Disney’s part!
Agreed all around. John Carter was great. It suffered from Disney having absolutely no idea how to market it, and an inexplicable declaration by the media that it was a bomb (once that label is stuck on, it’s hard to get it unstuck). But it was a lot of fun, with a solid story arc, characters you root for and a very well developed world … a rarity in big budget SF these days. It pains me to know that it won’t get a sequel, while Hollywood continues to churn out poorly made entries in lesser SF franchises. American genre writers and filmmakers can learn a lot from Joe Cornish – I can’t wait to see what he does next.