After the sudden death of John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former American Civil War Confederate Army captain, Carter’s nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara), attends the funeral. Per Carter’s instructions, the body is put in a tomb that can be unlocked only from the inside. His attorney hands Burroughs Carter’s journal, which Burroughs reads in the hope of finding clues to Carter’s cause of death and the reason he is willed heir. The bulk of the film is enactment of what Burroughs reads.
Burroughs reads of Carter’s exploits in the Arizona Territory as a prospector, where Union Colonel Powell (Bryan Cranston) arrests him. Powell, knowing about Carter’s military background, seeks his help in fighting the Apache, insisting that Carter owes it to his country. Carter refuses, stating that he paid any debt he had when he lost his family. Carter escapes his holding cell, but is pursued by Powell and his cavalry. After a run-in with a band of Apaches, Carter and a wounded Powell are chased until they take to hiding in a cave that turns out to be the object of Carter’s earlier searching, the “Spider Cave of Gold”. A mysterious being, called a Thern, appears in the cave at that moment; Carter kills him but accidentally activates the Thern’s powerful medallion, and is unwittingly transported to a ruined and dying planet, Barsoom, later revealed as Mars.
Because of his different bone density and Barsoom’s low gravity, Carter is able to jump high and perform feats of incredible strength. He is captured by the 4-armed Green Martian clan, the Tharks and their Jeddak (chieftain) Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). Tars instructs Sola (Samantha Morton) to watch over Carter which results in her feeding him a liquid that enables him to understand the Martian language. Elsewhere on Barsoom, the human Red Martian city of Helium led by Thardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds) and the mobile scavenger city of Zodanga, led by the villainous Sab Than (Dominic West), have been at war for a thousand years. Sab Than, who wants to conquer Barsoom, is armed with a special weapon obtained from Matai Shang (Mark Strong), the leader of the Therns. He proposes a cease-fire and an end to the war by marrying Mors’ daughter, the Princess of Helium Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Disguised as a soldier, the Princess escapes in a Helium ship.
When Tars Tarkas wants John Carter to show off his jumping abilities, a Thark states the sightings of one ship from Helium and one ship from Zodanga scattering the Tharks to their hiding place. John Carter takes action and saves Dejah from falling. He does manage to kill some Zodanga soldiers and have a brief fight with Sab Than. Following the fight, which leads to Sab Than’s ship retreating, John Carter is hailed as Dotar Sojat (which roughly translates to “My Right Arms”) by Tars Tarkas due to his strength and skill. Tarkas even has Dejah given to him as part of the Thark spoils. Sometime after that, Carter, accompanied by Dejah, tries to find a way to get back to Earth, and stumbles upon a temple ruin sacred to the Tharks where Sola encounters them and tries to stop them from entering, but fails. After discovering an inscription depicting a way back to Earth in the sacred river of Iss, Carter, Dejah, and Sola are caught by Sarkoja (Polly Walker) and Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church). The three are sentenced to death due to the Thark code, but are aided in their escape by Tars Tarkas, who reveals to Carter that Sola is his daughter. When Tal and Sarkoja find the prisoners gone, Tal Hajus states that Tarkas has betrayed them.
Carter, Dejah, Sola, and Woola (a Martian Calot – which is somewhat like a mixture of a lizard and a dog) embark on a quest to get to the end of a sacred river to find a way for Carter to get back home. They obtain information about the “ninth ray”, a means of utilizing infinite energy and also the key to understanding how the medallion works. But they are attacked by the Green Martian Clan of Warhoon, which were manipulated by Matai Shang to pursue them, as part of a new plan by Sab Than. After initially fleeing, Carter decides to buy the others time by fighting the horde himself as atonement for not being able to save his family. Though defeating many Warhoon, Carter is ultimately overpowered and is saved when a Helium ship intervenes. Sab Than is also in the company of Thardos Mors as he mentions that Sab came alone and stated that he organized the rescue party. The demoralized Dejah grudgingly agrees to marry Sab Than as Carter is taken to Zodanga to be healed.
When Carter awakens, he is guided to Dejah’s room. After the servant girls leave, Dejah gives Carter his medallion and tells him to go back to Earth. As Dejah leaves with Sab Than, Carter is met by Matai Shang, who takes Carter for a walk around Zodanga. In different Zodangan forms, Shang explains to Carter the purpose of Therns and how they manipulate the civilizations of different planets into total self-destruction, also revealing Sab Than’s secret plan that he will kill Dejah once he marries her and destroy Helium and rule Barsoom, at the same time completing the course the Therns have set for Barsoom. (Shang also mentions that he and the Therns have been doing the same process for millions of years.) Carter is able to make an escape thanks to Woola as he and Sola go back to the Tharks requesting their help. There, they discover Tars Tarkas has been overthrown by Tal Hajus. Tarkas, Carter, and Sola are put on trial in a Colosseum battle with two enormous vicious creatures, the four-armed Great White-Apes. After defeating them and then challenging and easily killing Hajus, Carter becomes the leader of the Tharks.
Carter and the Thark army charge on Helium and defeat the Zodangan army in a huge battle, killing Sab Than. Carter marries Dejah and becomes prince of Helium. On their first night, Carter decides to stay forever on Mars and throws away his medallion. Seizing this opportunity, Matai Shang, in the form of a Helium Guard, sends him back to Earth before leaving Mars forever. Back on Earth, Carter embarks on a long quest looking for clues of the Therns’ presence on Earth and hoping to find one of their medallions; after several years he appears to die suddenly and asks for unusual funeral arrangements — consistent with his having found a medallion, since his return to Mars would leave his Earth body in a coma-like state. He makes Burroughs his protector, giving him clues about how to open the tomb.
The film reverts to the present, where Burroughs runs back to Carter’s tomb and opens it, hoping to find Carter’s body. A Thern in the form of a man with a bowler hat, who had been following Carter over the ten years he’d returned, appears holding a knife, having followed Burroughs. But as he prepares to strike, both he and Burroughs see the tomb is empty. A shot suddenly rings out and the Thern drops dead. Carter emerges and confesses to Burroughs that he never found a medallion. Instead, he devised a scheme to lure a Thern into revealing himself in order to get that Thern’s medallion. After suggesting to Burroughs that he enjoy his life on Earth and to try writing books (alluding to the fact that Burroughs is the real-life author of the “Barsoom” novels), Carter takes the Thern’s medallion, whispers the code, and is then transported back to Barsoom and Dejah.
thought it was amazing.
I loved the way there was a mystery at the beginning of the film and it all got pieced together at the end. I also liked the really good CGI with the awesome aliens and battle ships. I would definitely recommend this to people looking for a good film to watch.