Andrew Stanton's first live-action film could help transport brawny actor Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and of the upcoming CGI summer spectacle Battleship) into a star-making turn in this ambitious, attractive, if too bloated sci-fi entertainment perhaps too reminiscent of James Cameron's Avatar as well as other massive franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and Superman. With its not so gimmicky, transparent 3D a burnished planet known as Barsoom has elements that make wearing the dark glasses not so bad of a thing even with the usual dimness of the projected image.
John Carter (ideally viewed in the giant-screen or IMAX format) co-stars Lynn Collins, Williem Dafoe, Dominic West, Thomas Haden Church and Samantha Morton, and is based on iconic influential adventure novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Princess of Mars, and for the House That Mouse Built may be a little strong when it comes to language (not the jargonistic stuff in and around an aggressive indigenous alien race known as the Tharks) and a decapitation.
With Kitsch's eponymous crestfallen protagonist, a Civil War veteran, a confederate ex-cavalry soldier on the lam searching for gold in an amusing Old West in Monument Valley with armed Apaches on his tail there's a feel of Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens even after a sketchy more distantly set prologue.
Soon, this cowboy-type in Carter is the (duplicate) visitor when he suddenly leaves the U.S. frontier for another frontier with its own (Thark) green-skinned natives - barbaric vagabonds with a couple of tusks, four arms and ten-feet in height. Stanton and his special-effects and make-up crew set out to create a vibrant, realistic cultural portrait (within a primitive tribal realm only for the strong) that a bare-chested human soldier affects as he realizes new powers from his new (gravity-altered) environment (he's known as "the one who jumps") so the visuals and stunt-work leap to eye-popping effect.
Maybe Stanton and his writers including Michael Chabon aren't ably to fully communicate (which means coherently streamline) the imaginatively pulpy prose of Burroughs as Carter joins a rebellion and becomes interested in a princess warrior Dejah Thoris, an appealing, spirited Collins seemingly at the mercy of enigmatic mystical types as embodied by Mark Strong's artfully cunning Matai Shang. You see, Dejah has been promised to the hand of West's villainous Prince Sab Than with lots of awesome weapons at his disposal.
Even though their faces are camouflaged by the sharp Thark detail Morton, Church and Dafoe bring energy to their roles, the latter's leader a bit more with frustration. A comic sidekick for John and playful relief comes through Woola a speedy sluggish green-tongued Thark canine, and Kitsch and Collins (also from Wolverine) have noticeably occasionally dynamic rapport for the heroic nature of their roles while Carter's "natural" self rests on Earth as he gets native during a war between red humanoid Martians, Dejah being of the Heliumites and Sab Than of the Zodagans.
When the action comes (though not really packaged like the ads indicate for a supposed new blockbuster), there are Prince Than's deadly flying naval force (good use of 3D) as John unites with Dejah and fearsome creatures in an arena, as well as a speeder chase (calling to mind Return of the Jedi). Bellowing through his role amid tattooed types and those with British accents, Kitsch may not always exude the desired power and charisma, but he seems to get the job done as a space-hero savior.
This exploring and burrowing into Burroughs marvelous mythology (on the 100th anniversary of the character in his magnum opus of a multipart saga) may be churning too much through conventionality (that the director rarely allowed too much of in many of his wondrously realized Pixar animated ventures). One that in its good vs. evil well-choreographed mayhem with incessant swordplay, stampeding wild beasts including humungous white apes, definitely forceful and tumultuously super-sized (watch out for those tusks coming through the screen), but not a truly thrilling cinematic transport to another desert world far, far away.