After having recently reread the first three of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Mars” books, I found this film an interesting stew, and I enjoyed it a lot. There’s little in the film plot that follows the books closely, but the broad outlines are there. Often the film adds things that aren’t in the books but probably would have improved them, things like more of a back story on Earth for John, an underlying method and reason for his sudden transfers to and from Mars, and more. The main characters all felt right, even where they differed. In the books, Carter is a man who loves to fight, and that might have worked in the era of Douglas Fairbanks, but today a reluctant warrior is more believable to me. In the books, Deja Thoris is smart and brave, but mostly ends up being a beautiful pawn for men to fight over. In the film she’s a fine warrior herself, and a scientist to boot. Yes, at times she’s a political pawn, but never willingly. Other characters worked fine for me, including the Green Martians and all the Martian beasts. The effects are seamless and believable. There were a few moments here and there where I noticed things moving a bit mechanically, but mostly you just believe it’s real.
Elements from the later books work their way into this one, but all in ways I thought effective. The one trick I’m not sure I like is worked by the Therns, the all-powerful behind-the-scenes controllers of Mars in this film (they’re less powerful in the books). The trick is being able to take on the appearance of any person. This seems a bit too modern an idea for the story, and adds doubt at times as to who is real and who is a disguised Thern, edging into “Matrix” territory.
On the whole, though, I liked it all. I can’t say I really loved it, but I’d certainly go see it again and would not miss any sequel. Recommended.