Retro Review: John Carter (2012)

Transported to Barsoom, John Carter a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians.
John Carter

Synopsis: Transported to Barsoom, John Carter a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Woola and a princess.


The Story

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs first John Carter story ‘A Princess of Mars’. The film takes a bit of creative license with the run of events. For example in the book. John Carter’s initial contact with the green Martians is much more diplomatic and more time is spent with them while he learns their language and culture over time. Also, the events that build-up to his trip to Mars are also changed.  When watching the film I immediately understood that the changes to the story were to try and imbue a little more excitement and add some action beats. This is understandable given that the film’s aim is to entertain both adults and kids alike.

All that said. I was generally happy with how the film’s story played out. In short, it’s the same story but just told in a slightly different way. Furthermore, the changes allowed for some fun meta moments such as a young Edgar Rice  Burroughs showing up for a reading of his Uncle Johns’s will. I also liked the fact that Johns’s nickname for Edgar is Ned. This is a fun way of paying tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the story that the film is based on. I also loved the way in which he was used to help flush out the Thern Spy on Earth.


The Acting

I have to admit. I’ve never been particularly a fan of Taylor Kitsch. He’s one of those actors that have never really had a strong opinion on. However, I think he did a pretty good job of embodying the titular character of John Carter. Kitsch does a fairly good job of playing the action beats as well as the more comedic moments. I loved the introduction of Woola and how Kitsch played the comedy of that moment. FYI Wool is a Mars version of a Dog only it can run faster and is rather ugly.

Willem Dafoe is fantastic in the role of Tars Tarkas who is the Green Martian Warrior chief that John Carter meets when first arriving on Mars. Dafoe does a great job of portraying both the warrior aspect and fair-mindedness of Tars Tarkas. Although I felt the relationship that he has with John in the film wasn’t quite as strong as it was in the book.

Lynn Collins is fantastic as Dejah Thoris the Princess of Mars that John Carter gradually falls in love with. Collins does a great job of portraying the scientist, warrior, and feminine aspects of this character who is a very strong female role model. It is a nicely balanced portrayal. I loved both the scene where she was doing her science and archeology bits to help John figure out the Thern Medallion that got him to Mars. But I also enjoyed the scenes where she was going full-on Amazon Warrior woman.

As far as the villains go. Dominic West is fairly over the top as Sab Than who wants to rule Barsoom. While Mark Strong is somewhat more subtle and manipulative as the dangerous leader of the Therns Matai Shang.



When released to cinemas 8-years ago. This film sadly bombed and subsequently got savaged by the critics. In part. I can understand why. For one thing, by the time this was adapted to film. It had been close to 100 years since Burroughs had created John Carter and the world that he inhabits. Subsequently, other movies and other science fiction and fantasy stories had pretty much-borrowed ideas from this story. Which meant that we had seen a lot of the technical aspects on screen already. For example, the light vessels that the tribes of Mars travel on are very likely what inspired George Lucas to come up with the Sail Barge in Star Wars. So it be easy to see why some viewers may have thought that this film was ripping off Star Wars. When in fact it is the other way round.

Another reason I think the film may have suffered is due to the fact that there is so much to unpack in this story. We meet a lot of different characters in the film and even I found it rather challenging to keep track at times. This makes me think that this may have done better had it been made as a TV mini-series over a few nights instead of an all-out action romp. I’d have liked to have learned a little more about the Green Martians and the various other tribes of Mars. But sadly with this being a movie. We didn’t really have much chance to explore some of the more interesting nuances of the story or the characters. Mars or Barsoom as it is called is a dying planet that has been ravaged by war.

Final Thoughts

I generally enjoyed this film. But as said above. I think the John Carter stories are most likely better suited to being done as a Television series where you can capture more of the nuances of the world and its characters.

John Carter (2012)
  • Story
  • Acting
  • CGI & Stunts
  • Incidental Music

Ian Cullen is the founder of and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: When he is not writing for Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of You can contact ian at:
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