The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
I don't see any way to begin a review of "John Carter" without referring to "Through Time and Space With Ferdinand Feghoot." That was a series of little stories that appeared in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1956 to 1973 and had a great influence on my development as a critic. In one of the Feghoot adventures, the hero finds himself on Mars and engaged in bloody swordplay. He is sliced in the leg. Then in the other leg. Then an arm is hacked off. "To hell with this," Feghoot exclaims, unholstering his ray gun and vaporizing his enemies.
I may have one or two details wrong, but you understand the point: When superior technology is at hand, it seems absurd for heroes to limit themselves to swords. When airships the size of a city block can float above a battle, why handicap yourself with cavalry charges involving lumbering alien rhinos? When it is possible to teleport yourself from Earth to Mars, why are you considered extraordinary because you can jump really high?
Such questions are never asked in the world of "John Carter," and as a result, the movie is more Western than science fiction. Even if we completely suspend our disbelief and accept the entire story at face value, isn't it underwhelming to spend so much time looking at hand-to-hand combat when there are so many neat toys and gadgets to play with?
But I must not review a movie that wasn't made. What we have here is a rousing boy's adventure story, adapted from stories that Edgar Rice Burroughs cranked out for early pulp magazines. They lacked the visceral appeal of his Tarzan stories, which inspired an estimated 89 movies; amazingly, this is the first John Carter movie, but it is intended to foster a franchise and will probably succeed.