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Played By: Taylor Kitsch
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Book Carter is a very straight-up heroic type. Movie Carter starts out embittered after the Civil War and the loss of his family. For a good portion of the movie, all he wants is to get back home, not wanting anything to do with the war, before finding his inner hero on Mars.
- The Ageless: After returning from Barsoom, John appears to have stopped aging after ten years.
- Batman Gambit: Pulls off a surprisingly good one against the Thern agent on Earth.
- Battle Couple: With Dejah at the climax.
- Challenging the Chief: Against Tal Hajus. Which he wins effortlessly.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: If John sees someone is in serious danger he will intervene on their behalf. He just can't help himself.
- Dark and Troubled Past: His wife and child were tragically lost in a house fire, presumably started by Union soldiers.
- Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: He seems a bit wayward at first, and even when he first shows up on Mars, the only thing he really wants to do is go back home. Then he starts getting attached to the Tharks as well as Dejah...
- Dual Wielding: Most scenes depict him wielding two swords in battle.
- Empowered Badass Normal: John is a completely normal, if not skilled, cavalry soldier on Earth. On Mars, he's a One-Man Army.
- The Hero
- I Choose to Stay: Once he learns how to get back to Earth, Carter, having fallen in love with Dejah and befriending the Tharks, chooses to stay on Mars. This is then tragically subverted no less than a minute later when he is sent back to Earth by Matai Shang.
- Master Swordsman: He turns out to be quite the fighter with a sword, although it's possible his enhanced abilities on the surface of Mars might play a big part in it as well.
- Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Barsoom's lower gravity makes this average human capable of superhuman feats of strength and endurance.
- Which is just silly; Barsoom and Mars both have the same surface gravity (0.38 of Earth's surface gravity), so John Carter would only be able to lift a bit over 2.5 times more than what he is capable of on Earth. Also mass is independent of local gravity, he'd still have to overcome the same amount of inertia to get something to move. Pretty much all of his feats can be chalked up to Rule of Cool.
- However, the original books were written at the very beginning of the 20th century, when no one really knew what operating in low gravity would be like, so it's excusable for Burroughs to amp it up quite a bit...
- Took a Level in Kindness: The bonds he forms with the Tharks as well as his relationship with Dejah, help John become a more noble and heroic man by the end of the movie.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: In his Barsoomian outfit.
- The Big Guy: A normal Thark is almost twice as tall as an ordinary human.
- Blood Knight: Tharks love fighting, and their usual means of dealing with prisoners is having them thrown into fighting pits.
- Fantastic Racism: They are well-aware of the centuries-long war between Helium and Zodanga, but would rather watch both sides kill each other than pick a side.
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Tharks all have four arms and are a very brutal race of fighters and scavengers.
- Virtue Is Weakness: Thark society generally views aspects such as sympathy and compassion as crimes in Thark society, which is why they are so quick to turn on Tars once they learn that he spared John and Sola.
Played By: Willem Dafoe
- Asskicking Equals Authority: He's the head of his own tribe of Tharks and is also a fearsome warrior to boot.
- All of the Other Reindeer:
- Badass Boast: "Leave a Thark his head and one hand, and he may yet conquer!"
- The Big Guy
- Bruiser with a Soft Center: He's a member of a brutal race of alien warriors, but he has a hidden soft spot that he has to keep hidden from the others due to their brutal lifestyle. He even has a case of Manly Tears during Carter and Dejah's wedding.
- The Chains of Commanding: He takes his role as Jeddak of the Tharks very seriously, but having to continually live up to the downright brutal expectations of a Green Martian leader plainly wears heavily on him.
- Composite Character: In the book, the leader of the Thark horde that Carter falls in with is Lorquas Ptomel; Tars is his second-in-command. As Tars is a much more important character — and Lorquas pretty much drops off the face of Barsoom after a while — Tars gets to take over the leader role in the film.
- Dope Slap: Played for Laughs when John ends up leading him and the Tharks to the wrong city to stop Sab Than.
- Genius Bruiser
- Hidden Depths: Tars has an unusual amount of compassion and sympathy that does not otherwise exist in his race, a fact that is frowned upon by Thark society.
- Noble Demon: Even before his HeelFace Turn, it's clear he's a lot more honorable and compassionate than most of the other Tharks.
- Papa Wolf: He is fiercely protective over his daughter, Sola, something that is frowned upon in Thark society.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Like any Thark, he takes great pride and pleasure in warfare and battle.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: His relationship with Carter in a nut-shell. Even when he gets so mad at Carter he could rip his arms out, he continues to support him at all times.
Played By: Samantha Morton
- The Chick
- The Dog Bites Back: After spending much of the film being abused by Sarkoja, Sola finally gets even with her rival by dragging Sarkoja into the arena and the path of a rampaging white ape, which promptly tears Sarkoja apart.Sarkoja: Watch your father die like the whimpering calot he is!
Sola: No! Let us watch you!
- In the Blood: Tars Tarkas is her father, and it's no coincidence they're the two nicest Tharks. "The blood of my father drives me" indeed. Her Missing Mom is implied to have been in the same vein.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: She's a good deal less brutal and more compassionate than is considered seemly in a Thark, which has led to a very hard life for her.
- Proud Warrior Race Girl: Played with. Sola is rarely seen without her weapons, but her personality is such that she only fights when necessary. She clearly believes in the Thark ideals of courage and honor, but can't deal with her people's brutality.
Played By: Thomas Haden Church
- 0% Approval Rating: It's clear the other Tharks don't like him, either before or after he becomes Jeddak. Most of them are perfectly willing to support Carter's right of challenge as a result.
- Adaptational Badass: Tal Hajus is much more imposing and ambitious that his book counterpart, who was pretty much a degenerate pervert.
- Big Bad Wannabe: Factors into the plot even less than Sab Than does.
- Blood Knight
- The Brute
- Evil Counterpart: To Tars Tarkas. Both of them are part of a Proud Warrior Race. However, while Tars has Hidden Depths and a strong sense of compassion for others, Tal has none of those qualities and considers it a grievous insult to their race and proof he is not fit to be their Jeddak.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: There appears to be some degree of closeness between him and Sarkoja, as they often scheme together and Tal appears quite shocked when she dies at the hands of a white ape.
- Jerkass: Tal is not a very pleasant guy to say the least. He's callous, insubordinate and general pain to be around.
- Off with His Head!
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: A much more sinister version.
- The Star Scream: Tal Haljus tries to challenge Tars and take his place as Jeddak, but is unable to get the rest of the Tharks to back him up. It isn't until Tars helps Sola and Carter escape that he is able to overthrow Tars and become the new Jeddak. It doesn't last long, though...
Played By: Polly Walker
- Ax-Crazy: She takes a lot of pleasure in abusing Sola.
- The Bully: Towards Sola.
- Blood Knight
- Evil Counterpart: To Sola. Both of them are the only female Tharks featured in the film, but while Sola has a strong sense of compassion that was handed down from her father, Sarkoja has none of that and acts as one of the most violent and aggressive Tharks.
- Half the Man He Used to Be: Torn in half by a white ape after Sola throws her into the arena.
- Kick the Dog: Pretty much any moment she shares with Sola features her tormenting or abusing her.
- Killed Off for Real
- Proud Warrior Race Gal
Played By: Ciarian Hinds
- Big Good
- Bumbling Dad
- Composite Character
- Horrible Judge of Character: Thinking he could trust Sab Than to keep his word about not attacking his people in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage.
- Nice Guy
- Royals Who Actually Do Something
Dejah ThorisThe Princess of Helium and the Deuteragonist of the movie.
Played By: Lynn Collins
- Adaptational Badass: In the original story, Dejah was portrayed as the stereotypical damsel in distress. Here, she's a bonafide badass who can handle herself just fine, only needing to be saved once or twice by John.
- Adaptational Wimp: Thoris is significantly less political in the movie. It may not sound like much, but she was the original inspiration for Princess Leia, and the book makes it clear that for all her attraction to Carter, she was not above manipulating him for the greater good of Barsoom.
- Arranged Marriage: Forced into one with Sab Than in exchange for a truce between their cities.
- Battle Couple: With Carter at the climax.
- Damsel out of Distress: When Sab Than takes her captive during the final battle, she stabs him through the wrist to escape.
- Everything's Better with Princesses
- Human Aliens: Of the Red-Skinned Space Babe variety.
- Lady of War: There's a definite fire in Dejah that nobody can ignore.
- The Lancer:
- Proud Warrior Race Girl:
- The Smart Girl: She's definitely got a brain on her.
- Warrior Princess: Due to being a Proud Warrior Race Guy and a princess she can handle her own in a fight is far from a damsel in distress. Lampshaded by John Carter after their first meeting.John: Maybe I ought to get behind you.Dejah: You let me know when it gets dangerous.
Played By: Dominic West
- Adaptational Villainy: Movie!Sab is much more vicious than Book!Sab (though admittedly, Book!Sab had next to no characterization).
- An Arm and a Leg: Carter lops off his hand during the climax.
- Big Bad Wannabe: He's pretty happy in the hopeless delusion that he's the toughest, smartest guy in the room, when really he's more of an Unwitting Pawn to the Therns.
- Blood Knight: He takes great pleasure in slaughtering the people of Helium.
- The Brute: Explicitly described as such by both Dejah and Matai Shang.
- Composite Character: In the book, Sab Than was the prince of Zodanga and its Jeddak was his father Than Kosis. In the movie, Sab is Jeddak and Than Kosis is nowhere to be seen.
- The Dragon: Though Matai Shang lets him think he's the Big Bad.
- Empowered Badass Normal: Starts out "normal" for a Red Martian, and then he gets Thern technology
- Evil Counterpart: To Carter. Both were warriors who found themselves in possession of incredible power, but where Carter at first just wanted to go home, and then used his abilities to save Dejah, Helium, and Barsoom, Sab revels in his power and wants to Take Over the World.
- Evil Overlord: Of the city of Zodanga.
- Faux Affably Evil: Can turn on the charm when he wants, but underneath it he's a complete slimeball.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: When he's about to tell Carter everything he knows about the Therns, Matai Shang kills him using the Ninth Ray against him.
- Human Aliens
- Killed Off for Real
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: He's a horrible person, make no mistake of that. But unlike most Evil Overlord, he actually leads from the front lines on several occasions, even before getting his super weapon from the Therns.
- Smug Snake
- Slimeball: How he comes across when he tries to be charming. He's actually more affable when he's being his real, evil self.
- Take Over the World: His main goal is to take over Barsoom. OF COURSE!
- Took a Level in Badass: Thanks to the Thern technology.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Courtesy of Matai Shang.
Played By: James PurefoyThe Jedwar of the Helluminatic navy who becomes one of Carter and Dejah's closest allies.
- The Charmer: Downplayed. While it isn't presented outright, he manages to make his way to Carter's cell without drawing his weapons and smoothly talks his way past the guards. And when he and Carter crash into Dejah's bed chamber, his first instinct is to flirt with her handmaidens.
- Deadpan Snarker: He gets a few good ones every now and then.
- Demoted to Extra: In the novels, Kantos was one of Carter's best friends. Here, his screentime is limited to only a few, albeit entertaining, scenes.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Him helping Carter escape certainly establishes this.
- Undying Loyalty: To Tardos Mors, Dejah Thoris and the rest of the Helluminatic city.
Played By: Mark Strong
- Adaptational Badass: In addition to the Therns as a whole getting a major tech-upgrade, Book!Matai Shang basically sat on his throne and didn't get involved until Carter was already exposing the Therns' false religion. In the movie, he's a much more proactive, Darth Sidious-esque schemer.
- Affably Evil: He's not an unpleasant sort to be around, for a chessmastering planet-conquering alien godling, and actually seems to enjoy his cat-and-mouse game with Carter. "Your move, Earthman."
- A God Am I: Given that fact that he and the rest of the Thern supervise and manipulate the destruction of civilizations and planets, Matai feels a sense of superiority and power over beings such as Carter.
- Bald of Evil: He's got a bald head and is undeniably evil.
- Big Bad: He and the Thern are the Catalysts of the conflict.
- Breakout Villain: He's not mentioned until the second book and doesn't get involved personally until the third. Here, he's established as the Big Bad from the get-go.
- The Chessmaster: The Therns basically manipulate and supervise the wide-scale destruction of planets and civilizations.
- Creepy Blue Eyes
- Emotion Eater: At one point he explains that he (and by extension all Therns) feed off of the negative emotions of other life forms. Thus making the Therns a kind of Psychic Vampire race.
- For the Evulz: Explicitly says he has no cause. 'Course, he may have been lying- Therns tend to do that.
- Human Aliens: Assuming his Shapeshifter Default Form is what he really looks like, he's completely indistinguishable from a Caucasian human.
- Magic from Technology
- Manipulative Bastard: Given that he and his race can be categorized as a group of Chess Masters, this can easily be his second most defining quality. He acts as a sort of advisor for Sab Than, but in actuality is manipulating his every move as an Unwitting Pawn.
- Squishy Wizard: His Magic from Technology may give him great power, but it doesn't save him from being tackled by Woola. Or being killed by a simple revolver.John Carter: Immortal ain't bulletproof.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: One of the many abilities conferred by the Thern medallions.
- Shapeshifter Default Form: He usually looks like a tall, bald, pale-skinned humanlike man in grey robes.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Played By: Daryl Sabara
- Historical Domain Character: In Real Life, Edgar Rice Burroughs was the author of the Barsoom series, which the film is based on.
- Nice Guy
- Secret Keeper
- Young Future Famous People: The movie is essentially a Leaning on the Fourth Wall of Edgar becoming inspired to write stories based on John Carter's adventures on Mars.
Played By: Bryan Cranston
- Adaptational Villainy: He was never really a villain, just at odds with John most of the time.
- Colonel Badass
- Enemy Mine: Despite the fact they're at odds with each other, the two team up to fend off an attacking group of Native Americans.
- Good Is Not Nice: He's really not much of a villain, just a Colonel in desperate need of recruits. That doesn't mean he has to be nice about it, though.
- Hero Antagonist
- Killed Off for Real