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Conan the Barbarian – Almost entirely a mess of nonsense

Conan the Barbarian - Theater Review
Release Date: 08/19/2011 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 2 Clacks

The 'Conan the Barbarian' remake is exactly the wrong sort of reboot - all flash, no substance.

Conan the Barbarian

The problem with reviewing a movie like Conan the Barbarian is that it inevitably invites complaints of “It’s meant to be campy!” or “Just shut up and enjoy it, stupid!”. Well, that’s a bit rude, if you ask me. Now, I may not be so familiar with Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s seminal original of Conan the Barbarian from 1982, but I have seen an awful lot of silly action movies. The truth is, even with everything the new Conan movie has going for it, it fails to succeed even as an escapist summer action movie.

The story is simple and predictable, as expected. Those more knowledgeable with the canon of Conan will undoubtedly pick up the vaguely foreign names with greater ease, but clunky narration by an uncredited Morgan Freeman and giant placards for each new location help a bit. Conan is born in a ridiculous birth scene that sets the stage for more nonsense. The young Conan, played by Leo Howard (Shorts), is a kid filled with yells and limited acting ability — although prodigious fighting ability for his young years, his father, played by Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), doesn’t think he’s quite ready for the sword.

Of course, as soon as you can say “Time for a cliched character arc,” the village is beset by evil random warriors led by Khalar Zym, played by a scene-chewing Stephen Lang (just like his villain in Avatar — here he fights people, not nature though) and his creepy, creepy daughter. Zym is searching for the final piece of a boring MacGuffin, finding it in the village, leaving only the “pureblood” (only explained much later as the descendant of some random family) remaining to resurrect his dead wife and become a “god.”

And then Corin (Conan’s father) sacrifices himself in a slightly interesting way to save his son (sort of), and Conan is the lone survivor. Cut to an unspecified number of years later, and an adult Conan, played by Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), is off freeing slaves and grabbing maidens with his best friend Artus, played by Nonso Anonzie (Atonement). But Conan spots (apparently) one of the minions of Zym leading some slavers, and is quick to confront him (although it doesn’t seem quite fair — wouldn’t the guy be at least 15 years older?).

Soon Conan is off on his quest of vengeance, but first the love interest must be forcibly introduced! Hiding in a monastery, Tamara, played by Rachel Nichols (Star Trek, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), is in fact the final pureblood, and must escape when Zym attacks with his now adult daughter, played by Rose McGowan (Charmed). Naturally, she and Conan meet and he is adorably chauvinistic (which is a good way to describe the entire movie) while she is slightly independent but mostly boring. Etc, etc, she gets kidnapped due to her own stupidity, Conan must confront Zym in a climactic battle scene at the end. And before I forget, there’s a random thief character played by Said Taghmaoui (Lost) who is just awful here — and plays an important part of the rescue for no particularly good reason.

So now the good parts. The acting isn’t really so bad, but the lines are almost entirely stupid — and not the good, campy kind. Just over the top enough to roll your eyes at, and not silly enough to laugh knowingly at. I thought that Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, and Ron Perlman deserved far better material than this schlocky mess. Jason Momoa has the potential to be a great action star — but not here. Rachel Nichols isn’t amazing, but she was decent when the material wasn’t clearly boring her. There were a few enjoyable action moments and laughs, but this leads to the real problem with the movie.

The direction, by Marcus Nispel (remakes of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), was quite simply terrible. It was frenetic in action scenes, making it difficult to keep track of what could be fun to watch. It was boring and slow in other scenes, lingering on nothing for far too long. The colors were washed out and brown — any time there was a massive fight scene, you had no idea whom was good or bad. And the 3D was probably the worst I’ve seen — ever. It was inconsistent at best and minimal at worst — I often took the glasses off just to see the screen more clearly.

So no, the movie isn’t successful as either a fun, campy action movie or an enjoyable over-the-top orgy of violence. I heard a lot of incongruous laughter — and some of it was mine. Skip this one unless you only want to help make Jason Momoa a bigger star — I can get behind that a bit. If you really must do that, just buy the tickets and see something else. Best of both worlds.



Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Categories: Reviews, Theater Releases

2 Responses to “Conan the Barbarian – Almost entirely a mess of nonsense”

August 19, 2011 at 9:54 AM

Jason Momoa (Stargate Atlantis)

He was only in GoT for like five minutes and said maybe five words plus a few grunts. ;) Nobody gives him credit for being in Atlantis.

Nice review, btw. Made me laugh.

August 23, 2011 at 11:46 PM

He seemed to be in every episode, at least from what little I saw of GoT. I’m actually working on a piece on the Stargate Atlantis series on Blu-ray, and there is an entire featurette devoted to the introduction of his character. I was watching a bit of the show before I saw that and I thought, “Hmmm, that guy kinda looks like Jason Momoa.” LOL

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