FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
Whether or not one agrees with me that the 1936 FLASH GORDON incorporated some adult themes into its adaptation of the famed comic strip, no one is likely to make any such claim for the sequel.
Whereas the script for the first serial takes assorted incidents from different comics-arcs and blends them into a whole, MARS does nothing but involve the three main heroes-- Flash, Dale and Zarkov-- in a repetitive campaign to destroy Ming's world-destroying ray on the Red Planet. The arbitrary decision to transplant all of the action to Mars was someone's brilliant idea to profit from the notoriety of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Possibly it would have made no difference to the writers had all the action stayed on Mongo, though. The writers, instead of exploiting Mongo's wealth of weird demi-human life-forms, confine themselves to just three Martian tribes-- the followers of Queen Azura, the bumptious Forest People, and the Clay People, the latter having been transformed into their muck-ridden state by Azura. Indeed, for complicated reasons Flash and his friends seem to spend more time freeing the Clay People from their curse than trying to ferret out the death-ray.
In the comic strip Azura was one of Flash's most memorable foes, as noted in this analysis. But here the queen is just a dime-a-dozen tyrant who for vague reasons joins Ming in his plot to seek vengeance on Planet Earth. Her function in the strip-- to tempt Flash away from his beloved Dale-- is tossed, aside from one moment where she starts to fancy the blonde hero. She's said to use "magic" on a regular basis, though most of her effects-- like her ability to teleport-- could be easily explained as technological accomplishments. One minor plotline deals with the heroes trying to find a "black sapphire" that can neutralize Azura's powers, but this detail doesn't amplify Azura's sorcerous status, serving only to burn up time. Actress Beatrice Roberts makes some attempt to give Azura a haughty regality, but she lacks the exoticism needed to pull off such a role.
The returning actors don't fare much better. Buster Crabbe swashes buckles adequately, but Frank Shannon and Charles Middleton have little to do. Jean Rogers's Dale isn't as much of a dishrag as in the previous serial-- she refuses Flash's suggestion that she stay behind during the journey-- but her only good scene is a mind-wipe that makes her into Flash's enemy, leading to her attempting to stab her lover to death. The voyage is not markedly improved by the inclusion of a comedy relief, reporter Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr), who proves strenuously unfunny.
The FX are adequate but the script repeats them a lot-- an energy-bridge, the transformations of the Clay People-- and there aren't even any standout hand-to-hand fights, except for a few sequences cadged from the first serial.
ADDENDUM: A poster on CHFB asserted that this serial was in theaters months before the influential "War of the Worlds" broadcast, so whatever brought about the script's change of venue from Mongo to Mars, it wasn't because of Orson Welles.