Normally I post my reviews over in the movie thread, but I think this one is more appropriate here:
I must admit, I'm doing this a bit differently than normal. Typically I will review a movie immediately after my first viewing, but when I saw John Carter at midnight Friday morning I was not able to put a rating on it, let alone elaborate on my opinions of the work. Now that I've seen it a second time I feel I have a clearer perspective from which I can accurately review the film.
To bring you up to speed (because Disney's marketing department utterly failed in this area) John Carter is based on the novel A Princess of Mars, a book written in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan) about an American Civil War soldier named John Carter who is mysteriously transported to Mars (or Barsoom, as its Martian inhabitants refer to it) where he gets caught up in a war between two of Barsoom's cities. Due to the lower gravitational pull on Mars, Carter is granted superhuman strength which Deja Thoris, princess of Helium (one of the warring cities) hopes he'll use to help defend her city from the Zodongans (the other warring city).
A Princess of Mars and the subsequent books in the Barsoom series went on to inspire, directly or indirectly, just about every single work of Science Fiction and Fantasy that has followed it. The movies that George Lucas borrowed from when making Star Wars borrowed heavily from these books, and John Carter is near the top of the laundry list of works James Cameron ripped off while making Avatar. For nearly 100 years people have been trying and failing to make a film based on these stories, then several years back Disney acquired the rights and gave the project to Pixar veteran and life-long John Carter fan Andrew Stanton.
In John Carter, Andrew Stanton crafts a good old-fashioned sci-fi adventure film full of interesting creatures, a deep mythology, and a fascinating world to house it all. Barsoom and its inhabitants are beautifully realized and despite the novel having been ripped off hundreds of times it still manages to feel interesting and unique. Stanton said that his goal in creating Barsoom was to treat it the same way he would treat a movie based on historical fact, recreating something that actually existed as opposed to going crazy with the visual style and I think this method worked really well. Barsoom feels like a very real and grounded place and the effects work is seamlessly integrated in to the environments to the point where it's difficult to tell what elements are practical sets and which are CG enhancements, not to mention the excellent motion capture and animation work done on the Tharks and other alien inhabitants.
There are several stand out action scenes in the film and Stanton proves himself as a more than competent action director, creating gripping and surprisingly brutal battles, and when the movie hits its stride it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there's a plot transition in the second act and during this time the film starts to feel a little bit bogged down by exposition, exposition that can be slightly hard to follow as it throws out terms like the Ninth Ray, Issus, Therns, etc. It almost feels as if Andrew Stanton tried to fit as much of the Barsoom mythology into one film as he could in case he did not get the opportunity to direct the two sequels he has planned for this film, and while it improves on a second viewing, the first time around it's a bit much to swallow.
Overall, though, the movie is quite fun and there's not a whole lot I can complain about. The exposition dump in the middle of the film is a bit tough to chew on and Taylor Kitsch's performance is slightly flat, but with a great supporting cast, a terrific female lead in Lynn Collin's Deja Thoris, and a satisfying payoff the movie ends on a high note. I think the reason it took me a second time viewing the film to really appreciate it was that I had set my expectations unrealistically high. Stanton's work at Pixar has made him one of my favorite filmmakers and that first night I wasn't going to be satisfied with anything less than a masterpiece on the level of WALLE, but what I got was a very fun, if imperfect, sci-fi adventure film. I really do hope that he gets the opportunity to direct the sequels to this movie, because now that I've gotten a taste of it I would love to dive further into the world and mythology of Barsoom, and I don't want anyone else but Stanton as my guide for that journey.