With its derivative story elements, epic scope, and straightforward action orientation, John Carter is a throwback to a simpler time when it was enough to have a heroic protagonist face off against all manner of monsters and bad guys. The special effects are first-rate, but that’s no longer enough. The story, loosely adapted from the pulp stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs as filtered through the likes of Star Wars and Avatar (which, in and of themselves were inspired by the Burroughs series), suffers from a convoluted plot and an anticlimactic resolution, but hits enough high notes along the way to be enjoyable.
Back in my pre-teen years, I collected comic books. I can recall summer mornings spent lying in bed enraptured by the graphic adventures of Conan the Barbarian. John Carter is one of those rare movies that, during its watching, delivers the same sense of adventure. There’s little doubt this is a flawed motion picture, but it aims big and, more often than not, delivers what it intends. Like its source material, which has reached the ripe old age of 100 this year (A Princess of Mars, in which Carter makes his first appearance, first came to the public’s notice in 1912), John Carter is about handsome men, beautiful women, bizarre aliens, and impossible acts of heroism. It’s about good triumphing over evil. And, if the ending seems a little haphazard because there are more stories to tell, at least it has an ending viewers can live with if a sequel never materializes. We are not held hostage to a dubious box office potential.