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So, John Carter has officially become labeled as a flop (despite reasonable reviews and a decent worldwide take), joining Tron Legacy and Prince of Persia on the list of failed attempts to kickstart action adventure franchises in recent years. Why can’t Disney seem to get a foothold in the live-action male market?
The odd thing is, there’s actually a similarity (for me, at least) between the three movies. Not in plot, of course, nor even in genre as such; I mean, I guess that Tron and John Carter are both science fiction, but they’re very different within that genre, with Tron‘s coldness and “I am a rich douche finding out about the real world for the first time here in this virtual world, woah irony” thing and John Carter‘s self-consciously “epic” reach and delving into sword and sandals and romance and kinda sorta super heroics and Star Wars-esque stuff (All of which, of course, came from the original ERB novels. Woah, irony, indeed). No, the similarity is in… feeling, may be the best way to put it.
Whatever their faults, none of the three are exactly bad movies, as such, but they also somehow miss out on being good at the same time. They’re all “good enough” movies, ones that are entertaining if particularly hollow and unengaging, as if they’ve been created by committee and too much of an eye towards the audience and bottom line; movies that might be more enjoyable on DVD or Netflix months later, when you’re feeling lazier and less impatient or demanding of whatever it is you’re watching because, really, if you miss a bit because you’re talking or eating pizza you can always rewind to watch it later. There’s a feeling of emptiness and lack of heart there that you can ignore if you’re not really paying attention, but if you’re there in the theater and have paid $MoreThanYouWould’veWantedIdeally to watch the damn thing, then somehow it’s all you can see.
Ultimately, that might be the problem: That Disney is being too cautious and self-aware about their action-adventure movies, a sure sign that they’re doomed to failure. Action-adventure movies require many things to work, it’s true, but I’m tempted to say that a cautious approach isn’t one of them: Think of things like the Fast and Furious movies, or Crank, or even the Marvel movies: There’s a sense of slapdash, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants throughout the whole thing, of the movie being slightly just a little bit out of control that feels part of the appeal, even if it’s not actually the case. Compared to those movies, Tron Legacy, John Carter and especially Prince of Persia feel a little too clean, and a little too safe, to truly appeal to their target audience.
And so, the question maybe becomes, should Disney just stop trying? There’s an argument for that position, especially when you consider that the Disney Corporation already owns the seeming leader in that particular demographic in Marvel Studios. With Marvel in its portfolio, Disney could, if it wanted, comfortably relax with the knowledge that at least one of its subsidiaries had the male moviegoer market sewn up, and save itself the cost, hassle and embarrassment of trying to bring one more much-beloved nostalgic franchise to the big screen, only to disappoint all but the most faithful.