John Carter—movie review

John Carter—movie review

John Carter is far from the disaster it’s been made out to be in some circles…nor is it an unqualified success. It has enough visual effects and production values for three movies, and almost as much story material, which is one of its problems. But it does provide vigorous, eye-filling entertainment, and paves the way for Taylor Kitsch (best known so far from his work on the TV series Friday Night Lights) to become a major movie star.

I never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels about Carter and the planet Mars (known to the locals as Barsoom), but a friend who is a lifelong devotee was quite pleased with this adaptation, by director Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon, declaring it true to the spirit of the books even though it adds many ideas of its own. As one of Pixar’s star players, Stanton is an experienced cinematic storyteller, which is why it’s disappointing that his first live-action project is so unwieldy at times. My challenge was keeping track of the many curious and unusual-looking characters that populate the picture. (All I can say with certainty is that Tharks don’t fly.)

John Carter (a virile, and likable, Kitsch) is a Confederate soldier who, in the wake of a family tragedy, has become uncontrollable, a wild animal who is ready to lash out at anyone and everyone. Fate and circumstance transport him to the planet Mars, where the lighter gravity gives him the ability to jump and soar about. This impresses even the fiercest warriors he meets, including a feisty princess (Lynn Collins) whose father is urging her to marry one of their enemies in order to create a peaceful alliance. The question is whether or not Carter is willing to take sides in a battle that is not his own.

This epic-scale production is the latest to offer a visual-effects landscape so palpably real that it’s impossible to tell where actors and sets leave off and movie magic takes over. At one time this achievement alone would have made John Carter a major event; today, it is just the latest in a string of films to show off such technical wizardry. While we can still marvel at the amazing sights laid out before us—like an apparent monster who turns out to be an overgrown puppy-dog-like pet—it is imperative that we never lose sight of who’s who, and what’s at stake. That turns out to be a tall order.

I can only call the finished film a mixed bag, with exciting scenes followed by dull stretches. But no movie so rich in imagination and so skillfully staged could or should be dismissed out of hand. If you have even the slightest curiosity about John Carter, I’d encourage you to see it.

As to why the folks at Disney decided to leave “…of Mars” off the title, I have no idea what they hoped to accomplish. Readers have devoured Burroughs’ novels under that name for decades; turning it into a generic name seems downright silly.  

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Is there more than 1 John Carter movie??

captain carli

Just the movie on dvd….LOVED IT…Hollywood critics have their head up their a_ _
great movie

Cowboy in NC

I actually first read the entire series way back in 1979-81. I have since read it many times over the years. I'm have not yet seen the movie. It will be difficult to impress me since I already have a grasp of the series as it was written not as a screenplay. Hopefully it will do justice to Mr. Burroughs.

Clay Grayson

A pretty good movie. There were some parts that caused me to cringe where major changes had been made from the original book (John Carter's past marriage, his childish view on taking a stand for a cause for so long, etc.) yet other changes showed good sense in trying to "update" the story for modern times (Let's face it, I doubt the Dejah of the books would have gone over well with a modern audience – but it was written when women were damsels in distress- not the capable warrior women shown in the movie). Yet I cannot help but think that this movie would have been a lot better if it had been done by..well, just about anyone but Disney.


I really enjoyed this movie. Not having read the source material I had no pre-conceived ideas of what it should be like. Found the whole adventure quite entertaining, nothing to fault with the CGI either. And the ending was a great surprise as well. In the end felt for John Carter's struggle to find his way back to Mars to be with his 'martian' wife. Would be very interested to see what has transpired while he was away…


I LOVED this movie so much I saw it repeatedly at the theater! I had not even really heard of it until my brother, Kellam, tasked me to go with him to see it. We need to campaign to make the DVD sales bigger than the theater sales to get a sequel!!!! I need more! How can you help us to accomplish this? Seriously…

John Eberhardt

Leonard, one of the best reviews of the film that I've seen. I saw the movie and then read the three books and then saw the movie another seven to ten times (lost count). I had to see it twice to get a good handle on the characters, etc. but I do not know how Stanton and company could have hurried it along (learning the language, developing characters, setting the plot line) without getting even more messed up. More narrative may have helped but I did like the changes that he made from the books and am very curious how he will move them forward to the sequels (in twenty years-lol). On of the main things that I noticed was quite minor- that the music was strange and a bit off for some scenes. I know that I look forward to the water and vegetation that are in the next books will give a different feel to this dry planet (more "Avatar" like). Since it is actually still playing in the first run 3D IMAX theaters in Wisconsin (until at least 5/11/2012) after all this time and therefore, still making money here at least. I hope the $300 million worldwide (it should be more with DVD/Blu-Ray sales) is enough to warrant another look at John Carter of Mars.

C. Lynch

I read the books and really looked forward to this film. I was not disappointed. Yes, there were some changes but, to my mind, most enhanced the original Burroughs saga. I can't understand why the reviews were so blah and the film didn't do better at the box office. I thought it was great! Maybe the general movie going public has become jaded in this age of short attention spans and instant gratification. SciFi owes most of what it is today to this century-old icon.

S. Wolf

Minor aside: when we went to see it last night (April 6th), the cineplex where we went has eleven automated ticket machines. No less than EIGHT of them were out of order. I'll let you imagine what the lineups were like. And the studios wonder why people aren't going to the movies as much as they used to?

S. Wolf

Mostly agree. Visually amazing, script-wise not bad at all, taking the 100 year-old story and updating it successfully (I thought), adding bits which helped it make more sense.

But … there were parts where the dialogue was almost painful, and the occasional – though mercifully few – scenes where the 'fly-by-wire' was really more obvious than it had any right to be.

Pity it has taken such a(n undeserved) drubbing at the box office. I'd have loved to see what the Barsoom saga could be like in a possible sequel helmed by a more competent director.


I know why they leave off "of Mars" in the title, it has to do with the story arch but you will see it at the end! It blew my mind, a great film I would encourage everyone to go, if you can get past the 'impossible' consideration, this is an amazing idea and a big what if attached… what if it were somehow true in some form in some other time ? Go see it!


It looks like there were 'creative differences' with the director.

Here's what makes me think so. When you look at the 10-minute trailer of the movie, it starts right where the story does, with the reading of John Carter's journal by his favorite nephew, young Edgar Rice Burroughs. From there, we go to Arizona (once) and then on to Mars. This is a jump back in time, but it makes perfect sense in terms of the story. This tells me that the trailer was put together the way the director saw the story.

In "John Carter" the opening sequences are arranged precisely in the order of the time when they happen. While that may seem to be a logical, almost self-evident way to go, it doesn't always work in story-telling. "John Carter" helps us to see why. In "John Carter" we first meet Sab Than and the Therns on Mars. Why? We don't know yet, but it does happen first of all the events in the story. Then, on earth, we meet John Carter at Fort Grant. Why? We're still not sure, but it does happen next in the order of time. Then, thirteen years later, we go to New York for the reading of the will — the beginning point of the trailer. Only then do we go, back in time, to the cave in Arizona and on to Mars. This tells me that the actual opening of the movie wasn't put together by the director. It was assembled by someone else.

No new footage was involved. They didn't understand how the story was supposed to unfold, after all of the footage was shot. And that's the director's job.

Bob Walden

Spot on, Mr. Maltin! I have read the Mars series several times when I was much younger and Disney's adaptation does justice to "A Princess of Mars". While not pleasing to the nitpickers, it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions for the spirit of the story. Don't let the story die with the naysayers. "John Carter" lives!


What a great story, what a great adventure movie! Disney/Pixar had the guts and the talent to put this classic scifi/adventure story on the screen and they did a good job. The scenery is great,the cgi and characters are believable and they followed the book and its wonderful imagination barring a few changes to help the condensed story. Mr Kitsch does a fine job and the beautiful Ms. Collins brought princess Dejah Thoris to life. Disney's marketing department really dropped the ball on marketing this movie. Go see it, you won't be sorry. Nice job Disney…. Please make the sequels, these will be classics.

Vi Janaway

Thank you for a fair review. It bothers me a lot that there is still the assumption that women don't like science fiction and fantasy. I am a woman. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy and watching movies for more than fifty years.
I was very familiar with the books and I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Mr. Stanton and crew did well.


I read that the marketing people at Disney presented a research prior to the launch that said that they'd never get a female into the cinema if they used the term: "..of Mars" and then it just became John Carter. John who? In my opinion the title lost it's allure and I just don't believe that research. Even if it'd be true what about the guys who planned to take their girls with them? How many guys did they lose by dropping: "…of Mars."?


The novel "A Princess of Mars" starts the story so simply, but the movie "John Carter" feels like it starts four or five times, before it finds its groove. Just as soon as we get an idea of what's going on in one place, we have to go somewhere else. From Mars to Arizona, then New York — it takes a good half hour to settle down into the story we will follow — John Carter's journal, read by his heir. By then, people who've never read the book are totally lost.
That's a shame, because this film looks like a $200 million-dollar production. With the original title and a bit of publicity, it would have done well, as it seems to be doing internationally.

Josh P

A great movie, has some flaws, but then again I've never seen a perfect movie nor have I ever seen a so called "perfect movie" ever accomplish or even try to accomplish what John Carter does through action, CGI, 3D, story, and attempting to create a jounrey to inverse viewers in. Only "real" mistake made on John Carter's behalf was made by Disney through marketing and their "flop" speculation, childish rich old white men (I'm white so wasn't a racist comment lol).
Join the FB fanpage to help fight for a sequel!


wasn't happy with the tardos mors characterization or matai shang but overall it was an entertaining film

Jhan Davis

Loved it. As for why "…of Mars" isn't on the front end, take the time to sit through the closing credits. Disney shows us the change of the movie's name only after the movie has shown us the change of John Carter's heart.

I left wanting to see it again.

Robert Hermann

I went to see John Carter twice in one week, first time in Imax 3D at the Valley Forge Regal (Which is the premier Imax theatre in the region) in Pennsylvania, I liked Carter, but wasn't entirely happy with the look of the film, I then went to see the flat version, later in the week, Enjoyed the second (flat)viewing much better than the 3D, The flat version was brighter, more colorful and could see more details in the sets, I found the 3 D Imax version somewhat dark, especially the first 20 minute western segment, I had the same problem with last years Imax version of Pirates, On Stranger Tides, Since Imax has switched from film to digital, the projection on the non-animated and post conversion 3D films ARE TOO dark. The glasses don't help either. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give the 3D Imax Version a 4 and a half rating, and the flat version an 8.


Before going to the movie I read Princess of Mars and Gods of Mars. I was enchanted by the story telling and adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs and equally delighted with the movie. It stayed true to the spirit and images of the original and caught me up in this wonderfully imagined alien world. The movie even improved on some of the weaker aspects of Burroughs' stories, especially how Carter got to Mars in the first place. I can't help but feel that the professional critics have not read the original stories. The movie only seems derivative because Lucas, Spielberg, Cameron and others already used so many of the elements that were original with Burroughs. I think it is a wonderful movie, so ignore the critics, go see it and enjoy!


I thought the film was fantastic, though as an avid reader of the books I was dissapointed at the grab five pages from this book and two from another. Complete changes to the stories and the removal of most of the romance. Never the less it was a very enjoyable film. As for not being able to tell the Tharks apart, I didn't see it. As with Avatar the Tharks were Very easily identifiable from each other. 4.5 Stars from me…. if the story was truer to the books it would have gotten 5 Stars.

Two Fans

Just went to see it and thought it was fantastic. Reminded me of when the first Star Wars movie came out. Sort of part pirates, part cowboys, part Roman gladiators, part sci-fi. Would love to see a sequel. Great 3D, too – tastefully done.


I went to see this with my 13 year old and we had a very good time. It was at times difficult to keep up with some of the character roles but all in all a very good movie. 4.5 stars.

Ermin Concepcion

I have seen the movie, I see no fault nor boring moments. I am just wondering why the review seems not as good as the movie really is. The story telling is perfect, the actors and actresses are fitted for their role, special effects are awesome. I love the dog-looking alien pet creature. I just love the movie. Dont listen to heresays, let you alone decide for yourselves what the movie really is.

The Wyz

Just exactly what does it take to impress modern audiences?
Please read some of the reviews at because this movies has 4 1/2 out of 5 there.

bob neilson

For a different view on this movie visit

Pam Q

I am glad I did not read any reviews before seeing this. It was an excellent adventure. I knew nothing about it and enjoyed it so much! I can't wait to see it again.


Woola steals the show!. It's a pity the rest of the cast are not up to him. Perhaps Errol Flynn and Sophia Loren would have played the parts well. But of course at that time the technology was not at the level of E.R.B. imagination. Oh, well. On a serious note I agree with the person that compares his use of a Confederate ex-soldier as a character, at the time the novels were written with a Vietnam veteran now. The same sadness. Remember Rambo?.

Stephen J

Thank you for a thoughtful, balanced review. You are right that the film suffers from not being the first to do the amazing things it does with landscapes, characters, and alien artifacts. And as a movie, the plot may seem either derivative or too complicated. But of course the Burroughs story is one of the oldest in the pulp action F/SF genre. And as for complicated – well, who made up a rule that says action movies have to have plots so simpleminded you don't have to think? Some lobbying group that markets beer to teenaged boys? It was nice to see some effort made to have complex characters and plot layers, even if they didn't always work. And the movie was total good fun anyhow!

Russ The Moon Cat

ps (sorry). yeah, leaving "..of Mars" off the title is just insane. How much are these marketing people paid to come up with these 'great' ideas. It's simple – go to a 12 year old kid. "Do you wanna see a movie called John Carter…." Kid "Uh….dunno" "…OF MARS!!" Kid "Hell yeah!"

Simple innit?!

Russ the Moon Cat

I saw it a couple of days ago and thought it was fantastic. I'm a 'medium' fan of the books, but I thought this was a beautifully presented epic – David Lean does Mars in some respects – and had an engaging lead supported by a great cast of character actors. It's a shame that all the negativity generated by the mess that was the marketing campaign appears to have done for the film before anyone's had a chance to see it.
I also wonder whether jaded sensibilities have clouded a potential audience for it like some kind of 'blockbuster fatigue'. I really hope that positive word of mouth has some impact because, while "John Carter" isn't flawless by any means, it is a lovingly crafted and rendered epic with pleasing 'pulp' sensibilities and really deserves to be seen and to suceed. Barsoom is a pretty awesome place to spend a couple of hours, I can tell you!

John Jacobson

I saw the film last Friday, and being a Burroughs fan who discovered John Carter in high school, I was very pleased about how it turned out. I do think that anyone who is not familiar with the books would have a difficult time following the action, but any fan of the Warlord of Mars should be quite happy with the outcome. Disney should have made it clearer that it was from Burroughs' writing in their advertising.

Tony Caruana

As a critic over here in the UK said " It's a $250,000,000 B movie". Approached like that it's quite enjoyable.


If you read the books as a boy, you will have no trouble following the movie; and it will be obvious why it was not entitled "John Carter of Mars." For four-year-olds going on seventy who did read the Mars Series as a boy and liked them, the Movie is a MUST SEE despite its Title.

D. Kingsley Hahn

Baby boomer readers originally introduced to John Carter and Barsoom in the series of mass market paperbacks published by Ace and Ballantine in the early 1960s should finally be able to breathe a heavy sigh of relief that a film has finally been released that lives up to the epic qualities of the source material. Confusing plots and characters? So what — so was "Star Wars" when we first viewed it in 1977! This is NOT a stand-alone film, people — Disney should definitely have warned us that this was Part One of a trilogy; but stick with it — your questions will be answered! Meanwhile, see the film again; then perhaps read the first three John Carter books (also available in audiobook or ereader format). Then maybe you'll understand why those of us who first read the books 50 years ago are excited and pleased. This is John Carter done RIGHT! ERB would be pleased!

Scott Warwick

I'm not certain, but I think the reason for the title change was a cheap and not-very-good made-for-TV movie shown on the syfy network last year. It starred Traci Lords as Dejah Thoris. Obviously Disney would not release a movie with the same title within a year or so of such a stinker. Being a fan of the books, I tried to watch it…..and just couldn't.
And by the way, this was Edgar Rice Burroughs first book (well, OK, Norman Beans first book) and the writing… well, Stan Lee was being interviewed by someone who had been a Spiderman fan. When he asked Stan if he was disappointed by the changes made to the character, Stan smiled and became my hero by saying " hey, it ain't Shakespeare!" The changes preserved the spirit of the story. I noticed that some folks don't like the fact that John Carter is a Confederate veteran. You do realize that Burroughs peobably KNEW Civil War veterans, right? It would be about the same as using a Viet Nam War vet in a story now, timeline wise. Quit griping about the details…..This was a truly GREAT movie and should be seen and enjoyed by all.

robert d

Was a great movie… only thing that was bad was that it Ended!!!! Not sure why so many of the critics are dissing this movie… maybe they just do not like Disney? Seriously, this movie is EPIC!


The move was great – saw it in 3D on IMAX – all I can say is whow! Something we can go see for a change –tell all to see it


Warning! Spam Trap! Katie is a liar!


I'm a life long Burroughs fan and felt I had the most to lose as a poor movie would be a total failure in my eyes, I took my 10 year old grandson, and soon realized I have someone to pass my love of Burroughs to, he throughly enjoyed the movie and sat enthralled through the whole movie, we are ready to see it again, and look forwards to the next installment


I just saw it, and was only disappointed when it was over. Regardless of the fairly minor changes, some for the better, it was from beginning to end virtually the film I saw in my mind's eye when I read A Princess of Mars over forty years ago. I'd love to personally thank everyone involved for creating the Barsoom I first encountered when I was twelve, and taking me back to that magical age again. And from this day forward, Lynn Collins will always be the Incomparable Dejah Thoris to me. Well done!


Am I the only person here who is disappointed in Disney for trying to drum up sympathy and dare I say support for such a vile character. A confederate soldier who fought long and hard to keep people oppressed on his planet gets a conscience and wanted to liberate a race of oppressed people on another planet. I can't possibly be the only person who sees the irony here.


I went with my son and I was surprised to be totally enthralled. Greatly enjoyed the film and the effects are amazing. I hope there will be another.

C.J. Hicks

Actually, the title IS "John Carter of Mars." At least that's what it was on the screen when I saw it Friday. The massive advertising campaign is simply "John Carter," of course, but when the title came up at the conclusion, to my great surprise, it said "John Carter of Mars." And if I'm correct, Mr. Maltin's style for his "Movie Guide" has always been to go by how it shows up on the film (i.e. "Superman," as opposed to "Superman — The Movie").


As with most Hollywood adaptions of popular novels they have taken their own license in the telling of the story which in many cases deviates from the original story. This movie is no exception. Having read all 3 of the original John Carter stories (there are more but don't center on John Carter) I recognized deviations from the get-go but in one instance explained (though from the 3 book series out of order) the method by which John Carter was transported mysteriously to Barsoom. There are many other inconsistencies and interweaving of characters and plots from books 2 & 3 but nonetheless the movie proved to be a fairly accurate depiction of the characters and the interractions of their civilizations and the history of Mars as envisioned by Burroughs. I found it thoroughly entertaining and satisfying in mollifying my need for matching the books though it did make John Carter more fragile than the books do.


Pass…even Maltins comments can't save this muddle…Get a Good Script, Good Actors, and then build the film…something is out of order…But I do think reading the books would be the best…

Loved it

Just came back from seeing it and enjoyed it immensely. A good old fashioned sci-fi matinee sort of film which was a GOOD thing in my opinion! Seemed pretty easy to follow to me but if you're not used to sci-fi/fantasy I suppose it could be harder to follow – anyway I recommend it highly for any sci-fi buff.

Chris Ottinger

Actually, the real title is, "John Carter, Warlord of Mars."

As you can see, the title used by Burroughs when referring to his hero would not be very "PC" today. After reading Maltin's review, I'm encouraged, as one of the things that would have absolutely killed me would have been to take this marvelous premise from 1912, and fill it full of Hollywood producer fluff. It sounds like we've some of that of course, I mean, they made the Red Skull part of Hydra or whatever, instead of working directly for der Fuhrer, but it doesn't so too awfully overblown.

Now I'm just wondering if it's worth springing for the 3D version.


I heard the stink off MARS NEEDS MOMS was so bad that Disney will never use the word Mars again.

Thomas L.

I just went and saw it, and I'm sorry to say I only lasted through the first 35 minutes. The special effects, the creativity of the alien creatures, the flying ships, all lent to amazing possibilities for the film, but trying to follow the story line and the who's who of the characters was far too daunting. I walked out, chalking it up to one of those movies you'll rent for a dollar on some rainy sunday when you've nothing better to do.


I enjoyed John Carter tremendously, truly finding a sense of wonder and awe that was amiss to my imagination in the likes of the Star Wars prequels, and even Avatar. And although the plotting was convoluted at times in John Carter, this wasn't a film made by the numbers, but one that held its convictions in open hand and offered the viewer to take. And I certainly took; finding the performances likeable and imagery superb — more convincing that most anythw else of this type that I can recall in recent years. The 3D.was also very good, and perhaps lacking more than anything was a truly heroic score. But this, IMHO, is streets ahead of the sci-fi/fantasy pack of the current decade and I hope it does well. ***(3 stars)

Skip Huston

I am advertisng the film at my theater as Edgar Rice Burroughs' JOHN CARTER OF MARS.

It is this way on our website, our marquee, our Facebook page, and every other media source we have control of.

Disney is not paying for these promos; I am. As such, I feel I have the right to rectify what their marketing execs have really dropped the ball on.

Dave Petty

Ignore the critics, read the book (you can do so for free at Project Gutenberg: or audio book:, see the movie.


This is not up my alley. The first three months of the year have been slim pickings, indeed.

H Poulter

I read that Disney marketeers found the phrase "of Mars" tested badly with female movie-goers. Stanton had already dropped "Princess" from the title because that word is BO poison with young males.

I hope the movie does well enough to allow Stanton to make a sequel – on the other hand, I'd like to see him make more Pixar films.

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