CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
Welcome to the Hyborian Age, by Crom!
It makes sense that someone would want to reboot the CONAN franchise. After all, Robert E. Howard gave us one of the greatest characters in the history of heroic fiction, and the movies have just barely scratched the surface of Conan and his world. For all the cult adoration for John Milius’s 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the truth is, it’s not a very good film, and didn’t stick very closely to the source material. Oh yeah, and Arnold might have looked the part, but he couldn’t really act. So a lot of Howard fans were a little disappointed. Almost thirty years later, Hollywood has decided to start fresh.
The 2011 version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN is a decent enough flick. This time around, Jason Momoa plays the title role. Momoa rose to fame in TV shows like BAYWATCH and STARGATE: ATLANTIS, but his most recent television role was as another barbarian leader, Khal Drogo, in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES. Momoa was fairly impressive as Drogo, and he does a good job as CONAN. He may not be the most gifted actor to ever appear on screen, but at least does a better job fleshing out the role than Arnold did.
The new movie begins during a war of barbarian tribes. Conan’s mother gives birth to him on the battlefield, his birth cries filling the air just as his mother breathes her last breath. I have to say, though, that the blood-covered baby looked incredibly fake as his daddy lifted him up toward the sun.
The boy is brought up by his father, the Cimmerian leader (and blacksmith) Corin (played by Ron Perlman, who always makes movies like this better, just by appearing in them), and shows a gift for fighting (and killing) at an early age. He easily moves ahead of the pack during a ritual of manhood, to determine who of the youngsters will be allowed to fight with their elders in battle (the ritual involves running up a hill and back, without breaking a quayle’s egg that you carry in your mouth). But as soon as he proves himself, Conan’s tribe is attacked by an army of killers.
The army is led by the ruthless Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who is searching for a piece of a mask made from “the bones of kings.” It is supposed to bring its wearer untold magical power, and Zym is determined to reassemble it and rule his world. Corin is hiding one of the pieces, and Zym’s “uber-goth” daughter Marique (she’s about the same age as the young Conan), sniffs it out. Corin is tortured and killed with molten metal in front of his son for his troubles. In fact, Conan does what he can to save his father, but it’s a lost cause. He makes a blood oath to get revenge on Zym and his warriors.
We then leap ahead to a grown Conan, who has taken up with a band of pirates, led by his buddy Ukafa (Bob Sapp). Already, Conan is a legendary warrior to those who know him, but he has yet to make his mark on the world. As we know from Robert E. Howard’s stories, this guy is destined for big things. But before he can get there, he has a little thing called revenge to dish out first.
Despite the years of proving himself a warrior, he hasn’t had much luck finding the guys who killed his father, until he finally tracks his enemies to a monastery where Khalar Zym has gone to find a girl who is of “pure blood,” whose descendants can be traced way back to a race of mighty sorcerers. Her name is Tamara (Rachel Nichols) and she’s been raised in the temple as a female monk, and has no idea of her lineage. Zym wants her because only her blood can activate the mask he’s gone to such trouble to put together again. So, of course, Conan spends the rest of the movie trying to prevent Zym from getting what he wants.
Along the way, Conan has to battle Zym’s vicious henchmen, and a giant tentacled sea creature, among other obstacles.
I have to admit, I had high hopes for this movie. As a Conan fan, I really wanted this new franchise to blow me a way. The truth is, while I did enjoy this movie, and thought it was a decent-enough reboot, I was also a bit disappointed.
The acting is good for the most part. Momoa is not Laurence Olivier, but then again, he doesn’t really have to be, and he has just enough charisma to keep our interest. He looks a bit small for Conan, but over time that doesn’t seem to matter much, as he does a good job embodying the character.
As Conan says, “I live, I love, I slay – I am content!“
Stephen Lang is just as effective as the bad guy, Khalar Zym, and his various henchmen are pretty cool, especially Rose McGowan as the grown-up version of Zym’s daughter, Marique. She looks pretty freaky with her futuristic hairdo, strange tattoos and wild eyes, and as a sorceress, she’s a force to be reckoned with. A scene where she conjures up warriors made of sand is especially interesting.
Ron Perlman always turns in an entertaining acting job at this point, and he’s just fine as Conan’s father, instructing his son in the ways of war, until war claims his life.
But my problem is that, while there are good action sequences, there are also parts that drag a bit, and the movie seemed overlong to me at 112 minutes. Also, while I liked this version of Conan, it didn’t completely blow me away. I was hoping for some really amazing scenes, and some came close, but none really amazed me.
The 3D effects didn’t help at all. This is another case of 3D being added after the movie was made—a la’ last year’s CLASH OF THE TITANS—and, frankly, it looks terrible.
Everything looked very dark and murky. And there were very few times when the 3D aspects stood out at all. This was one of those occasions when 3D actually hurt a movie for me, and I really didn’t see the point of it. If you’re going to see this one, seek out a theater playing the 2D version.
Director Marcus Nispel also directed the remakes of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) – this guy whole career seems to be made up of music videos and movie remakes – and those two horror reboots didn’t impress me much at all. Nispel is good at stuff like atmosphere, but his movies always seem to be lacking something, and the same goes for CONAN. I liked this better than a lot of his other films, but I still think it doesn’t go far enough in establishing Conan as a vicious killing machine. After all, he was born on the battlefield and he lives to crush his enemies. But the storyline in this movie seemed like a distraction.
I barely give this one three knives. I kept debating whether to give it two and a half or three – but it’s at least as good as something like CAPTAIN AMERICA.
But I wanted a more dynamic story. And I wanted more exciting filmmaking. CONAN THE BARBARIAN comes close, but doesn’t fully deliver the goods. I guess I just had high expectations for this one.
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
(NOTE: If you’re going to see this one at the theater – go to a matinee and skip the 3D. You’ll save yourself some money and save yourself a headache.)
L.L. Soares gives CONAN THE BARBARIAN – three half knives.