Unless Carter, who has swagger -- and great leaping abilities on the lower gravity of Mars -- intervenes. Of course, first he has to get away from the Tharks, four-armed green nomads who stand 12 feet tall and practice a Spartan brand of warrior culture. They're a musket-armed cavalry who admire nothing so much as a good battle. They brand each other over any offense to the community and practice infanticide.
Kitsch brings a robust manliness to the part of Carter, whom we meet during his brawling/prospecting/Indian-fighting days in the Old West. He's also got a light touch, which he'll need in the midst of all this, um, kitsch.
The Tharks hear Carter say he's from Virginia, and that's how they name him -- "Virginia!" Since they're ignorant of Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee, Carter doesn't care for that.
The movie has the requisite sword fights and land and sea (air) battles, with the obligatory "Let them fight in the arena" moment.
"John Carter" is hampered by the staggering amount of exposition that this "introduction of the myth" installment must take care of: races, tribes, names, religions, Martian science about "The Ninth Ray." Burroughs, who gained his greatest fame inventing "Tarzan of the Apes," more than gets his due as a writer who envisioned a parallel world in this cinematic blend of hi-tech and retro-costuming, a world with an endless civil war, racism and religious mumbo jumbo.
It's a state-of-the-digital art 3D film with 1930s "Flash Gordon" story elements, stuff that probably wasn't as dated 100 years ago when Burroughs was writing his pulp fiction. A true Disney touch? Playing up the happy, helpful monster "mutt" who takes to Carter and follows him like a puppy.
It's a popcorn movie, not to be taken any more seriously than "Clash of the Titans" and its ilk. But even by those standards, "John Carter" is a bit of a slog; there are characters, relationships, conflicts and plot devices to keep track of, none of them worth the brainpower you spend sorting them out. A more fun sorting game is trying to identify the voices behind the digitally animated aliens (Thomas Haden Church, Samantha Morton and Willem Dafoe among them).
But Kitsch & Co. make the time pass pleasantly enough. Just try to forget the too-easy comparisons to "Mars Needs Moms" and "Cowboys vs. Aliens" and you'll be fine.