John Carter is based on a pulp science fiction story from the golden era of science fiction, written by a popular author who is now better known for his series of Tarzan books, a story that transplants the political tensions of early 20th century Europe to the planet Mars.
John Carter (a rugged Taylor Kitsch) is an American Civil War soldier who has deserted his regiment to quest for gold and treasure. He’s imprisoned for deserting, but is more interested in his quest than in the needs of his country, refusing to return to active duty. He escapes the brig and is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he’s smack in the middle of a war between the residents of Barsoom, as they call their planet. Because of the lower gravity, Carter finds he has amazing powers, and ends up drawn into the
situation when the beautiful Dejah Thoris, Princess of Mars (Lynn Collins), entreats him to help.
Barsoom is inhabited by many different races, including the Red Men of Zodanga and Helium, the savage Tharks and the all-powerful Therns, a group of wise and powerful men who manipulate the other races for their own ends. The war is between the Zodangans and the Heliumites, the former led by ruthless Sab Than (Dominic West) and the latter by Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds), King of Helium and father to Princess Dejah Thoris.
The real star of John Carter is the scenery, the alien world that Carter must figure out without understanding of the language or culture, and it’s that process of learning how things work that produces some of the most amusing scenes.
The film is reputed to have been very expensive to produce, representing a significant gamble for Disney. It succeeds marvelously as epic sci-fi, but there are decisions the studio has made — including dropping the “of Mars” part of the title — that are hard to understand.
Whether it’s a success could come down to marketing more than the film itself, but my recommendation is for you to go and enjoy epic sci-fi like we haven’t enjoyed on the big screen in quite a few years.
The story is ultimately about Carter finding himself and a love story between Princess Thoris and Carter. She finds him irresistible as the strange off-planet ruffian with odd ideas and extraordinary strength. It’s neither deep nor profound; this isn’t Tree of Life: Mars. Instead, it’s a movie in the sweeping action-adventure vein of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, a wondrous, joyful adventure with a number of surprise twists, including an unusually satisfying surprise ending that had theatergoers laughing and clapping at the final credits.