Friday, 19 August 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Born on the battlefield...literally

Image: Lionsgate

Those of us with a soft spot for overblown 80s movies will remember the 1982 original Conan the Barbarian, one of the earliest action forays for the young Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, almost thirty years on, Conan’s back on the big screen.

Cut out of his dying mother’s belly on the battlefield, Conan is raised by his father (Ron Perlman) to be a warrior. When evil warlord Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) kills Conan's father and destroys his village looking for part of a magic mask, Conan vows revenge. Now a fully grown warrior (Jason Momoa), he joins forces with Tamara (Rachel Nichols) to stop Zim from resurrecting his wicked bride.

The original Conan was always a bit of a guilty pleasure. It was an overblown, campy swords and sorcery flick from John Milius that didn’t bear close inspection. Its cult reputation also owes a lot to the inimitable Arnie himself. But fans of the original Robert E. Howard character didn’t feel that it was a proper representation and have been clamouring for a more faithful depiction of the barbarian. Unfortunately, this remake is nothing to be excited about. It’s silly and over the top, sure, but it’s also ploddingly dull.

After an effective opening few minutes that, sadly, contain all the best action moments, Conan falls into the usual fantasy movie trap of having a plot that’s so vague that the characters keep moving from place to place but for no apparent reason. Director Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake) seems intent on making the action sequences as hard to see as possible thanks to the hurried cutting and the gloomy 3D. Speaking of the 3D, it’s been a while since it’s been quite this pointless and irritating. 

Momoa looks the part but isn’t as effective here as he was in Game of Thrones. The supporting cast is ripe with hammy turns, from Lang’s (Avatar) occasionally-accented villain to Rose McGowan (Planet Terror) as his metal-clawed, oddly-haired daughter. Nichols (GI Joe) is blank as the passive love interest/object that needs saving, and the dependable Perlman (Hellboy) appears only briefly, perhaps due to his apparent obligation to appear in every studio-made fantasy movie.

There are some fun moments to be found, largely due to the overblown nature of the material, but this is still disappointing. The gore-hounds will have some fun with Nispel’s decision to include a fair amount of viscera, but even the most easily pleased of them will still be frustrated by the lack of any decent story. 

Verdict: Not a patch on the not-that-great original. A couple of enjoyably gory moments aside, Conan is a disappointment. Morgan Freeman needs better quality control for his voiceover work.



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