John Carter is based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s pulp hero by the same name, or more specifically, the novel A Princess of Mars. It’s a classic sword-and-sorcery tale with bare-chested heroes, beautiful princesses, monsters, natives, and evil conquerors – except that instead of taking place in the ancient past, the setting is Mars, and instead of magic and swords there’s science and alien technology.
The story revolves around civil war veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who’s transported to Mars by a mystic amulet. There, he meets the alien natives (the four-armed Tharks), and becomes involved in the fight between two cities populated with humans. He meets the princess of one of the cities, Dejah Toris (Lynn Collins), who is about to be forced to marry the opposing city’s leader to broker peace.
It’s not hard for anyone who’s ever seen an adventure film to guess how it ends, but the journey there is surprisingly pleasant. The story holds together all the way and is told with clarity and precision. The special effects are plenty, but are not allowed to take precedence over storytelling. The film manages to develop the main characters and give them distinctive personalities in a very short space. The film makers have also provided a framing device – the original novel’s writer (Burroughs) is also in the film, and learns the story from Carter’s diary, which allows for a twist ending.
The special effects render the alien species, architecture and vehicles very well, and it’s quite entertaining to see the titular character’s feats of superhuman strength, enabled by Mars’ lower gravity. The main characters also provide some eye candy, especially Carter/Kitsch, who runs around bare-chested for most of the film. Recommended for anyone who likes well-told action/adventure films.