First of all, allow me to admit I have not yet read the original book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs on which this movie is based. What I do know from reading on the subject and talking to people who read it is that Disney has — as is to be expected with these things — taken some liberties with the story.
Visually, this movie is fantastic. The costumes, effects and characters are beautifully done. The airships, well, I could rave on for quite a while on how fabulous these Davincian flyers look. This entire movie is aesthetically pleasing and has quite a few steampunk elements to it.
Story-wise, they largely follow the first book in the Barsoom series, from Captain John Carter seeking fortune in Virginia and through a series of unfortunate and downright bizarre events ending up not only on Mars (the locals call it “Barsoom”) but with Sola, a Thark (green Martian) ally and Dejah Thoris, the princess of Helium.
Carter has to save the princess from a loveless marriage and may need to save the whole planet while he is at it.
The story made sense for people who haven’t read the book, which is something that doesn’t always happen. They spend enough time on Carter’s past so people could identify with the hero and understand what makes him tick.
I would have liked to find out more about the villains of the story, though, as I found them quite interesting. The manipulators behind society, they may have not been a new type of villain, but Mark Strong did an excellent job portraying the charismatic Matai Shang.
What I also liked, aside from the aesthetic, was the general storytelling. This isn’t just a sci-fi adventure movie, it’s touching and funny at times. And that sets it apart from the so-manieth blockbuster based on a book that Hollywood has become well-known for.
I’m not sure in how far I would recommend this to parents with young children as there is a fair amount of violence, but aside from that I’d definitely urge everyone to go see it. Especially if you love sci-fi, Victoriana, Da Vinci-style flying machines and a good action story with more draft than the average “hero goes to shoot up the pesky villains”.
As a side note: I did see in theater but not in 3D, so I have no clue how well those effects are done. In 2D it was stunning, so don’t feel obliged to go for the more expensive 3D version if you have the choice between the two.