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Film review: John Carter

Updated on April 14, 2012

Film work details

Title: John Carter

Produced by: Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Screenplay written by: Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon and Andrew Stanton

Adapted from the book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem DaFoe, Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston and Thomas Haden Church

Official Synopsis

From Academy Award–winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton comes John Carter—a sweeping action-adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars). John Carter is based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose highly imaginative adventures served as inspiration for many filmmakers, both past and present. The film tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), who is inexplicably transported to Mars


Genre: Action, adventure, Sci-Fi

(Age) rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence

Reviewer rating: 4 1/2 Popcorns out of a possible 5

Reviewer summary

When young Edgar Rice Burroughs arrives at the estate of his recently deceased uncle, former Confederate cavalry officer John Carter, he finds out he is the sole heir of the estate. There is a prerequisite to the inheritance, though, one that is to be revealed to him in his uncle's journal. As Burroughs begins reading he is introduced to a fantastic story, one that explains the reasons for his uncle’s strange actions during the years leading up to his death.

Carter’s tale begins in the ArizonaTerritory in 1868, where he has been prospecting for gold since the end of the war. He has just found a large amount of gold when he is taken captive by the 7th regimen. Brought to speak to a Colonel Powell, it is apparent the regimen, having heard tales of Carter’s bravery, want him for a special assignment. Before this assignment is laid out Carter escapes, with Powell leading a force to bring him back. But during the pursuit Carter is met by a group of Apaches, and while he speaks with them one of Powell’s men shoots and kills one of the tribe members. The Apaches take offense now and when Powell is wounded Carter takes him to a cave for shelter. The cave, however, is already occupied by a strange being who doesn’t care for the intrusion and tries to kill Carter. When Carter defends himself a medallion the being had worn opens up. Carter is teleported out of the cave and finds himself in a dessert.

Carter is in a place like no other he’s ever seen (it is actually Mars, though Carter won’t find this out for some time). The landscape is much different than that of Earth and he has the ability to spring in marvelously great distances. But soon he is taken captive by warriors from a tribe of very tall four-armed creatures who call themselves Tharks. Although the tribe is hostile to Carter his life is spared by the compassionate leader (or Jeddak) named Tars Tarkas. While in captivity Carter also makes friends with a gentle female Thark named Sola, who provides him with a sacred drink that gives him the ability to understand and communicate with the tribe. He also learns from the Tharks that this strange world is called Barsoom.

Meanwhile, Barsoom’s technically advanced cities of Helium and the Zodanga are engaged in war. This war has raged for some time and the more aggressive Zodangas are threatening to destroy their enemies. Princess of Helium, a scientist named Dejah Thoris, has almost discovered the secrets of a special weapon, called the Ninth Ray, which has been used by the Zodanga. Dejah hopes to reveal her findings to her people so they may engage the Zondang on equal footing. But before she can raise support for the project she is informed by her father that it has been arranged for her to marry the Zolangan prince, General Sab Than.. Being a good daughter Dejah consents; but she isn’t happy about wedding a murderous man who has no apparent use for women except to slaughter them. When Dejah attempts to bring down the ship carrying her soon-to-be husband fate lands her in the arms of John Carter.

Aiding Sab Than is a weapon more powerful than even the Ninth Ray: the Therns, an alien race of shape-shifters with intelligence and powers that far exceed any other known people. It was a Thern who possessed the medallion that teleported Carter to Barsoom. The Therns are entrusted by the Zodanga for council, believing the Therns support their campaign. But the Therns’ true motive for being involved in the war is much more insidious than anyone imagines.

Reviewer comments

I was a little apprehensive when I started watching this film. I’ve never read Burroughs’ John Carter books and I couldn’t help but remember way back when I was young and watched David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time. I had not read any of those books yet and and Lynch’s attempt to compress the entire saga into a single piece made for one very confusing and convoluted mess. My other concern with this movie is that it is a Disney production, and I rather expected the same kind of annoying, sophomoric camp that saturated the National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean series

Thankfully, John Carter doesn't suffer from either of these problems. The storyline had its intricacies but they were articulately laid out. I also appreciated the maturity of the script; it was recognizably written to entertain thinking adults. The actors gave quality performances, and the CGI special effects were high quality without being overemphasized.

The Tharks were intriguing characters. Their customs were at times savage and I could see where this threatened to elevate them toward the capacity for mass destruction that plagued the more technically advanced races. And yet the humane Tars Tarkas seemed to represent a budding communal desire to throw off the barbaric tendencies and return to a more spiritually balanced way of life.

On the other hand, there was the Therns. These are the epitomes of devious politicians and involve themselves in the fate of every civilization they find. In the movie they gave the perception of altruistic counselors, but in truth they seek only to work the puppet strings of the most aggressive leaders of the worlds they visit.. Their aim is to bring war and chaos so oblivion of the worlds will follow. Altogether they were quite a menacing and spiritually distasteful set of villains.

I very much liked the character of John Carter. Just under the surface of his brusque manners he is humane to the core. During the story we find out that he suffered greatly at the hands of the Union army. This suffering helps him to be the sympathetic and heroic man he is.

If I had one problem with the movie it is with the formulaic persona given to the character of Dejah Thoris. It seems the filmmakers weren’t content with her being an intelligent scientist with a heart of her own, they had to throw in the kick-ass heroine slant, too. At least she’s not a completely raging amazon - in the end the hero is allowed to be the hero and we get the sense Dejah accepts this and happily so. Still, the bowing to stereotypes does make for a stilted heroine.

Final Verdict

This film is impressive. The visual effects are inspired and the acting excellent. The themes touch on political situations similar to ones faced in our contemporary world, with an intricate plot that is clearly presented. I was intrigued by the characters and also delighted by how the writers provided further surprise once it appeared John Carter’s tale had ended. With the high level of maturity written into the script I felt respected as a viewer. John Carter is a very satisfying story, one that will enchant and challenge the imagination!

Special note

Following the release of its release Disney pulled promotion on John Carter, citing almost immediately it was doomed to be a box office flop. Subsequently it did flop domestically, HOWEVER box earnings globally have proved wildly favorable. This leaves me wondering how much the Disney execs’ reaction on seeing the film for the first time –and in particular, realizing the hero was a Confederate soldier and the Union forces were the Earthly bad guys- had to do with their prompt decision to cut promotion. While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the trend-conscious Disney did make this decision in order to protect the sentiments of a political base it is a sad Thern-worthy irony indeed if true.

Reviewer rating – 4 ½ Popcorns

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Review ©April 14, 2012 by Beth Perry


Submit a Comment

  • bethperry profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Perry 

    6 years ago from Tennesee


    thanks for information!

    What a shame they looked at it that way, though. I know many men who are big fans of "The Princess Bride"!

  • bethperry profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Perry 

    6 years ago from Tennesee

    Rodric29, well interesting!

    I know what you mean about disappointment with a movie adaptation that fails to be as interesting as the book or story it was developed from. On the other hands some films have enticed me to read the original book/story and often these are even better than the movie. "The Keep" comes to mind here; the movie was confusing as heck so I read the novel afterward and found it absolutely engrossing!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Yes, the Princess of Mars is the first book in the 11 book series. The 2nd book is The Gods of Mars which Stanton had already planned for a sequel. The third book is "The Warlord of Mars" which would conclude the film trilogy if it ever gets to be completed.

    Btw - Princess was dropped from the title as they thought that'd turn off boys seeing the movie, and, Mars was dropped due to Disney's failure with Mars needs Moms. Rodric29 is probably referring to a extremely low budget film that came out a year or two ago based on ERB's Princess of Mars. I believe ERB Inc. required them to change the name as they filmed it without permission.

  • Rodric29 profile image

    Rodric Anthony Johnson 

    6 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

    Actually Bethperry, I have no idea. I found out after reading your review that there were others because I did a search on the net. I was surprised to find it out. I like the Princess of Mars movie, so I bet the books are better. I am afraid to check them out before seeing John Carter. I always get disappointed when the movie does not follow the book.

  • bethperry profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Perry 

    6 years ago from Tennesee

    Hi Rodric29 and thanks for reading and commenting.

    Is Princess of Mars one of the books in the Burroughs series? I've read a couple of the Greystoke/Tarzan books and a few of Burroughs' short stories but not any of the John Carter books yet. My husband read the series when he was young but honestly, I don't know much about them.

  • Rodric29 profile image

    Rodric Anthony Johnson 

    6 years ago from Peoria, Arizona

    This movie seems to be a remake of the Princess of Mars. I was hesitant to see it because of that. After your review I will see it though.

  • bethperry profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Perry 

    6 years ago from Tennesee

    Thanks Will! And you'll have to let me know how you like it :)

  • bethperry profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Perry 

    6 years ago from Tennesee

    Hey Brightmeadow,

    I suspect you are right in part there, too. I've seen the alternative film poster they made for the movie and while it was, as a British friend told me "bloody splashy colorful" the overall effect was still Disney-fied. That works for films like Pirates of the Caribbean but not for a film with more substance like this one.

    Thanks so much for your insight, I appreciate it :)

  • WillStarr profile image


    6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Now I'll want to see it!

  • BrightMeadow profile image


    6 years ago from a room of one's own

    I have not seen this film yet but want to. It was my understanding that many who saw the film, shared your opinion that it was well done. The problem lay in Disney's marketing of the film. The film flopped because people thought it was going to be something other than it was. If it had been marketed for the intended audience in the U.S. it might have done better. Really great hub. Thoughtful and incisive.


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