Largely credited as the source of inspiration for sci-fi visionaries like George Lucas, James Cameron, and Arthur C. Clarke, several novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs featured what many consider to be “the first space hero,” John Carter, nearly a century ago.

Now, 100 years after making his debut in a series of short stories called “Under The Moons of Mars” (which was later compiled into the novel A Princess of Mars), the adventures of John Carter have now been relegated to a major studio tentpole film filled to the brim with CGI wizardry crafted to woo audiences that, ironically, might just see this as an Avatar wannabe.

Carter, played here with little charisma by Friday Night Lights alum Taylor Kitsch (also seen in this summer’s Battleship), is a Civil War vet living in late-1800s New York and, after running into some trouble with the law, finds himself mysteriously transported to a planet called Barsoom, or what we humans call, Mars. There, he (very quickly) adapts to the Martian culture (he can jump really high), settles in with a four-armed race of green beings called Tharks, and finds himself in the middle of two warring nations, the peaceful Helium and the more belligerent Zodanga.

Directed by Pixar vet Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), the film wrapped production back in July 2010, shortly after the box office (and critical) bomb that was Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Something tells me the execs over at the Mouse House wanted to take their sweet time figuring out how to market another pricey potential franchise (some argue that the orange-and-yellow billboards and posters are unappealing; I find them rather coolly retro). Sadly, it’s an admirable gamble that doesn’t completely pay off in the end. Stanton does manage to retain some of the visual wonderment and awe he instilled in his Pixar films, doing his best to make sure the audience learns every planetary custom and oddly named creature in this sprawling space opera (By the way, film score enthusiasts will eat up Michael Giacchino’s sumptuous symphonies).

Speaking of sprawling, good luck trying to keep track of the story, which appears to, much like its one-note protagonist, jump all over the place. What starts off as a promising and much better version of Cowboys and Aliens – the first fifteen minutes are a well-paced intro – quickly turns into a frenetic cartoon. There’s Dejah Thoris (Wolverine’s beloved hottie Lynn Collins), the Princess of Helium who’s forced to marry the ruler of The Bad Guys (a fierce Dominic West)…And then there’s everyone – and everything – else in between, a venerable who’s who of Barsoom: Matai Shang, leader of the shapeshifting Therns (a wasted Mark Strong), Kantos Kan (James Purefoy, just here for the ride), and Willem Dafoe as John Carter’s Thark ally. To list the rest of the characters and beasts – both friendly and deadly –  would only confuse matters further.

That said, a note to the producers: if you’re banking on kicking off a new action franchise, I suggest resisting the urge to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into your first installment. Because isn’t leaving an audience wanting more the most important rule of nurturing a fanbase?