Among Jason Statham’s Initial Films Was a Science-Fiction Western by John Carpenter

When you think of today’s greatest action stars, who comes to mind? Well, given how big the John Wick movies are, your mind likely first flashes to Keanu Reeves mowing down endless droves of enemies. In a lot of people’s eyes, Reeves is probably the correct answer to this question.

What people don’t seem to realize is that not everyone can do a John Wick movie every couple of years and hold the crown. Some stars have to put their stake in the ground and hold their respective genres up by working on multiple movies a year. Who does that better for the action genre than Jason Statham? Over the last few years, Statham has continued to crank out fun and brutal movies like Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, Wrath of Man, Hobbs & Shaw, and the upcoming David Ayer project, The Beekeeper. Reeves might have the more acclaimed series to his name, but Statham is the backbone of the genre.

But before he was headlining multiple films a year, Jason Statham had to get his start somewhere. While his first few roles were in small crime movies, our first glimpse at his true action persona came with the 2001 schlock-fest, Ghosts of Mars. This John Carpenter-directed movie finds Statham in the role of Sergeant Jericho Butler, a smarmy anti-hero of sorts who accompanies Ice Cube in a battle against, you guessed it, a bunch of ghosts on Mars. This isn’t quite the Earth-bound, hand-to-hand style action movie that Statham would repeatedly paint with a new coat over and over again, but it is the movie that first finds him carving out the kind of performance that Jason Statham would provide for the next two and a half decades.

John Carpenter’s ‘Ghosts of Mars’ Feels Disjointed
Jason Statham playing a supporting role in a John Carpenter movie should be an absolute dream come true. Unfortunately, that role is in Ghosts of Mars. On paper, this seems like a fun project, and while Statham is making the most of his time, the movie, on the other hand, is struggling. Yes, even John Carpenter can make a movie that just doesn’t work. Carpenter’s magic touch on movies including Escape from New York, Halloween, and The Thing just didn’t apply to this early 2000s feature.

In a lot of ways, Ghosts of Mars sounds like a phenomenal John Carpenter experience. This movie combines action, horror, Western, and science fiction genres, and recruits Ice Cube and Pam Grier as part of its ensemble cast. How could this go wrong? Well, in a lot of ways, actually. Ghosts of Mars is full of flat direction, has no energy, and is just… too cheesy. There’s having a self-aware sense of humor, but no matter what Carpenter says, this movie just doesn’t have that. Ghosts of Mars feels like the kind of movie that tried really hard to be cool but couldn’t pull it off, and now everyone involved has to act like they meant for it to be that way the whole time. Also, Carpenter never should have abandoned his synth scores.

The Cast of ‘Ghosts of Mars’ Keeps Things Entertaining

Even though it wasn’t John Carpenter’s best, everyone on screen at least seems to be giving the movie their all. Ice Cube is a loudmouthed, angry convict named James “Desolation” Williams, throwing his angry eyebrows around just as much as he mows down the ghosts of Mars. Natasha Henstridge plays the serious, grounded lead, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard. She’s not quite up to par with the likes of Snake Plissken as one of Carpenter’s best protagonists, but she plays the character straight and acts as an anchor so that everyone around her can go absolutely bonkers with their performances. Pam Grier is basically just Pam Grier in space, which ultimately fits the movie well.

Jason Statham Built His Action Archetype in ‘Ghosts of Mars’

While Ice Cube just up and runs away with this movie, Jason Statham comes really close to taking the crown as this movie’s MVP. His performance as Jericho Butler solidified him as a wise-ass, gun-toting force to be reckoned with. He’s not quite your Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, the type who walks in the room and is just a mountain of muscle. That said, he excels at walking into the room, rattling off a grizzly one-liner, and going from zero to one hundred instantly. He might not be a human tank, but he’s a mean, buff bastard that you don’t want to cross.

It’s a shame that Statham doesn’t get as much of a chance to shine with his typical hand-to-hand combat that we are used to, but we have to keep in mind that this was his first big foray into the genre. Ghosts of Mars was his second action movie role, with the first being Turn It Up, and only having been in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch before that. Hollywood, and Jason Statham himself, were still figuring out what exactly to do with the idea of Jason Statham.

Now, Jason Statham practically is the action genre. Less than a decade after Ghosts of Mars, Statham had his legacy as this generation’s action star cemented by appearing as second billing in The Expendables and has since taken that franchise over as the main lead. With movies like Crank, The Meg, The Transporter, Mechanic, the action comedy Spy, Fast X, and The Beekeeper, people just can’t seem to get enough of Statham. While we might celebrate those movies endlessly, what we should be celebrating is Ghosts of Mars. It might be an intergalactic and supernatural misfire, but it’s B-movie action that gave us this century’s hardest-working action star.

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