I don’t know much about the original Princess of Mars, besides its status as a grandfather of nearly all modern sci-fi (or at least soft “mythical” sci-fi). I’m sure it can adapted into a good film, but John Carter is not that adaptation, and I absolutely hated the final product.
Firstly, there is John Carter himself, who has to be one of the least sympathetic protagonists in cinematic history. He enters the story as a drunken, violent, unhelpful dullard, and doesn’t change much throughout the film. He is unwilling to take part in the war and other events around him because he wants to get home, but the film never establishes anything worthwhile he has to come back to, and so there is no attachment to his quest. Director even thoroughly ruins a major fight scene where he single-handedly dispatches 50-100 Tharks (or whatever their name is) by intercutting it with flashback of him burying his wife and daughter. This has zero impact because they’re hardly even mentioned before, much less shown on-screen or get any lines in flashbacks that would foster attachment.
To be fair, there wasn’t really much to ruin. Even with good cinematography, it would've still been a battle with thugs we never heard of before that come practically out of nowhere, thus lacking dramatic impact. The major fight scenes against known antagonists are just as dull and unengaging, lacking even basic choreography: nobody even bothers to block
when fighting in melee. In the absence of good action and interesting protagonist, the film has to support itself through secondary characters and overarching plot, and it fails there as well.
The Princess of Mars herself is mainly reduced to delivering exposition and lacks screen presence, their romance lacking all chemistry. Thark allies are two-dimensional: primary villain does get greater depth, but only through tortured attempts at moral ambiguity that ultimately come to naught because of Therns. Their villainy is the worst of both worlds: they have thoughtful, non-menacing manner befitting stories with White and Grey Morality
, yet their goals are no deeper than “destroy the world… slowly”. The final nail in film’s coffin are the over-long, tremendously annoying scenes with alien babies and the unapologetic Mighty Whitey
overtones that make Avatar
seem like Mississippi Burning