DISCLAIMER: I saw this movie on IMAX 3D, because Empire Theatres (the only theatre chain in Nova Scotia) has severely limited 2D access to it so they can make more money for an inferior presentation. I wanted to vote by withholding my dollars, but this movie is one I've been dying to see for so long...I'm a weak person. I will try my best to see it in 2D...which I think will work a LOT better. Oh yeah, and SPOILERS ahead.
I think the mixed reviews are the most accurate ones for this. I love the fact that this movie exists. I think the look and design of movie is awesome. There are some truly amusing performances throughout. But MAN is there a lot crammed into it.
I'm not a film maker. I do believe there is a certain amount of luck or magic that goes into a movie firing perfectly on all cylinders, and sometimes the hardest working crew with the most talent can miss the mark just slightly. I also imagine that adapting a book is a hell of a lot harder than it looks. I admire the fact that Stanton and co. managed to get the major beats of Princess of Mars onto the big screen. But...as a watcher and lover of movies, there just seemed like there was TOO much exposition. The one thing that really bugged me was the opening of the film. Within a very short period of time, the audience is introduced to the villains (the very first scene...which is full of action...which is tricky to pull off because action works best when you're invested in the characters), John Carter himself, then Edgar Rice Burroughs, then a flashback BACK to John Carter, then a series of short action scenes and a horseback chase...all the while you have to keep pace because this stuff sets up the movie. There's something to be said for trusting the audience to follow along with all of this, but there is a decided lack of finesse about how all of this hangs together. It is as if we're handed the Coles Notes version and sent on our merry way...I suspect this has to do with editing and a limitation on running time. That being said, at this point I was really worried about the movie.
Carter then gets to Mars, through an explanation that I think works great. The book is vague about how Carter (and the other humans later on in the series) get to Mars, and the Thern device works well within the rules established in the book. I imagine I will enjoy Carter's jumping around much better in 2D, because it looked terrible in 3D. The 3D robbed the scene of its impact, but I can still recognize how amusing/exhilarating this was. The Tharks are awesome, from the cute little babies to Tars Tarkas to Sola to Tal Hajus. Just pitch perfect. Thank goodness for Tars Tarkas in many ways...he's kind of the heart of the movie, in relation to John Carter.
There is a bit of chemistry happening between John Carter and Dejah Thoris, and Dejah Thoris is a pretty decent character. But the 'arc' of their relationship seems a bit too...short. Again, this may very well be a case of scenes being cut for running time, but I just didn't quite buy them falling in love. The main motivation for the John Carter character in the books is Dejah Thoris...he loves Barsoom, but he loves it because of this woman. I felt like I needed quite a bit more of their romance happening, and less of a lot of other stuff. Again, it comes down to wanting more of what was already there in the movie.
The one thing that I could have done with less of is the scheming between Sab Than and Matai Shang. First thing...I have no problem with the changes to the story, and I actually like the Therns being utilized in this way. But their introduction at the beginning, and the expository passages throughout the rest of the film were the weakest parts of the movie. The Ninth Ray stuff was nifty, and again I'm not a film maker, but there just seemed to be something off about how this material was inserted. I don't know how this stuff could have been integrated better, but it just didn't work for me...especially when Johnny Boy and Dejah needed some more attention to make their marriage be a bigger payoff.
Despite the awkwardness of the the opening, I did end up loving the twist at the end involving Edgar Rice Burroughs. That was well-played, and quite clever. As well, it was a delightful nod to the original story. Another side note was that James Purefoy was AWESOME! I hope the sequel gets made so that Kantos Kan can be even more awesome for more screen time. I want him to be like Wedge Antilles or Felix Leiter...a great secondary character that always manages to be understated, indispensable, and friggin' cool.
So, the basics are all there...the visuals and design are amazing, there are good bones and some solid casting. I think there is a lot to love about this movie, and I no doubt would have shamelessly loved it when I was nine years old. But I can forsee a lot of improvements to how the next one is adapted if it gets made.
A simple request to Andrew Stanton: release an extended cut if it exists...especially if there is more material with John and Dejah, AND the opening of the film has room to build and breath.