I liked this film a lot. Long long time ago, when I was a teenager, I read some of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels in the "Barsoom" series (Barsoom means Mars in Martian language) and I enjoyed them greatly. And thanks to this movie, I just relived again this experience and I could enjoy a little bit of the old magic.
Burroughs books about Tarzan (he created this character) had quite a number of movie adaptations, but his Martian and Venusian series were considered for a long time too hard to film. Considering that the first book was written in 1912 and that the first plans to film it were made (without success) in 1931, it certainly took time to have a movie version of the first of "Barsoom" books - but considering the rather pleasant result, it was worth waiting that long.
Below I tried to describe the best things in this film, with as little SPOILERS as possible.
1. John Carter from Virginia, a former captain of Confederate cavalry. For my personal taste Taylor Kitsch pictured him quite well, and the scenario describes him like in the book, as a man courageous, strong and aggressive but also noble, faithful and clever. Unlike in some other action movies I found this hero quite LIKEABLE - he is a little bit grim and sullen in the beginning, but we soon come to understand why and frankly he has reasons to be in such a state of mind. His progressive awakening to a second chance in life is credible and a pleasant thing to watch.
2. Dejah Thoris of Helium, the Princess of Mars. Actually, the first book in "Barsoom" series, of which this film is the adaptation, had for title precisely "A Princess of Mars", as Dejah Thoris is a character as important as John Carter. In the film, in my opinion her character completely steals the show and it is in large part due to the excellent performance of Lynn Collins. Whoever cast her in that role was a genius! Her Dejah Thoris is an excellent mixture of an amazon (courage and strength), a scholar (brains and learning) and an aristocratic young lady (pride and manners). In this film Dejah Thoris is different from what we could see in the first "Barsoom" book (in which she never even touches a weapon), but it doesn't really hurt the story.
Lynn Collins was clearly instructed to play Dejah Thoris as warrior princess, but she still kept Dejah Thoris a very feminine character, in the best sense of the term. Although she swings the sword and pilots the warships as the best male warriors of her country, she also can display a moment of girlish cheerfulness and enthusiasm, smile in a way which melts the hardest hearts, give looks filled with an almost motherly warmth and tenderness (and also a purring promise) and walk in such a way that all males in the assistance are almost howling! I particularly appreciated the fact that when sharpening her sword she simply couldn't resist to look on the blade, check her make up and preen a little... And then, there are short moments when we perceive a brief glimpse of vulnerability - and at that time she is even more impressive.
The fact that Ms Collins is a very beautiful woman with an exceptional figure only adds to her performance - also her clothes, body paintings, haircut, makeup and jewelry were perfectly well chosen! And I really believe that her model of wedding dress should be MANDATORY on Earth - the number of men willing to marry would probably explode overnight as the result! Frankly, when she appeared in her wedding dress, the male part of the public gasped - and in the same time many girls in the cinema started to emit noises similar to those made by a very angry rattlesnake when choking on a half swallowed chinchilla...)))
To resume, Lynn Collins pictured a PERFECT Dejah Thoris. Even if this character is not entirely faithful to the one imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I still had a feeling of "Dejah Vu" (sorry for that, I couldn't resist...)
3. The Tharks, desert warriors. Excellent. I found every scene with Thark tribe a delight. The characters of Tars Tarkas and Sola are very well done and played. The Woola "dog" is simply too cute and extremely funny - every scene when it appears was welcomed by a big laughter in the cinema.
4. Other special effects. This film was very costly and you can really see the effects on the screen. The mobile city of Zodanga, walking through the desolate deserts of Mars is really impressive. The flying warships are excellent. The gigantic White Apes are really impressive and scary. The city of Helium is very beautiful. And finally, the panorama of Mars is really well done - one can immediately see that this world was once full of life, but it is now dying and in dire need of help...
5. Dominic West. He plays a scoundrel - again. I must admit that I have a weakness for this actor, since watching him in "The Wire", but also the "300" and "Centurion". Here his role is not as important as it could be, considering that he is not exactly THE main villain (it is not exactly a spoiler - we learn it in the first scene of the film). But it is still a pleasure to watch him.
6. Difference with the books. There are many small and one HUGE difference with the "Princess of Mars", concerning the race of Therns, who in the book do not play an important role - in the "Barsoom" series they really appear in later parts. But I believe this HUGE change for once was a rather good thing, as it allows for a more logical explanation of John Carter's travels from Earth to Mars. The smaller differences didn't hurt the movie either.
7. The ending is quite good, not stupid at all and rather moving. And that is something not so frequent in modern Hollywood movies. Good job for this one!
Bottom line, I liked this film a lot and I am certainly going to buy it as soon as it is available - preferably in Blu-Ray, because here the quality of image has its importance. And I will certainly go to see the sequel if there is one, for many obvious reasons but especially because I am DYING to see how they would solve the little problem of Martian reproduction - because you see, in the books, when John Carter and Dejah Thoris are married, she lays him an egg...)))