John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars should be glorious. The very fact that it’s a John Carpenter film that stars Jason Statham should have it placed on a pedestal above all else. It’s the kind of combo that makes you go all weak at the knees.
Then there’s the set-up. In the later half of the 22nd-century, humanity has colonised Mars and is 84% of the way through terraforming the planet. So far so sci-fi. The twist is, that at some point along the way Mars has established itself as a matriarchial society. It’s the kind of twist that could make a film, or, you know, they could completely ignore it.
Which is exactly what they do; apart from the text at the start and a couple of women being in positions of power this information means nothing. Instead, the film descends into some good old-fashioned alien shooting. We follow police officer Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) who is part of a team sent to transfer Ice Cube’s dangerous prisoner Desolation Williams. Unfortunately, when they arrive at the prison shit has hit the fan, and the locals have taken to chopping off heads and shoving them on spikes. All because they’ve been possessed by an ancient Martain civilisation. Yes, it is that mental.
It’s a move that leads to Ghosts of Mars jettisoning all of that potential and instead diving headfirst into cheesy acting and over-the-top action pieces. It’s fine, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen a million times before. The Stath is of course wonderfully Stath like, but a lot of the other acting falls flat. Ice Cube is, well, Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge is alright at best.
There are bits and pieces inside Ghosts of Mars that remind you why Carpenter is who he was. Some of the design hints at that twisted genius. Unfortunately, they then shoot it in the face. It’s a film that under a bolder vision would be ripe for a remake. However, what came to the screen is okay at best. If you want to watch average actors shoot aliens in the face for a while, then it will scratch that itch. If you want the film it promises it could have been, then you need to keep searching.
Verdict: Hall of Shame