Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
Adaptation Grade: D
CONAN: When a barbarian feels thirst, it is a thirst for blood.
I had every intention of liking this movie. While I hold a special place in my heart for the Arnold Schwarzenegger-blessed original, I always felt it could have benefitted from a little judicious editing — even the most dedicated fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre must concede that it is drearily slow in places — and I figured that a 2011 update, starring a buff, born-for-the-role actor I actually like would surely redress some of the 1982 attempt’s B-movie-budget mistakes and offer up a more stylized, if assuredly campy, version of the Robert E. Howard books for the discerning modern sensibility.
What a forlorn hope that was. I mean… how can a movie be so bloody and yet so boring at the same time?
We kick off with a battle (ho hum) and then quickly proceed to another battle (yawn) after which Conan’s father is brutally killed (whatevs) by a wicked warlord (yadda yadda yadda), sending the young, burgeoning swordsman on the path to an awful revenge (blah blah blah). There’s random breast exposure, some pillaging and implied hedonistic orgying, and then the martially-skilled, aptly-named Barbarian starts closing in on the plot, with very mixed results.
Things pick up a little bit when he meets the obligatory chick (Rachel Nichols). We get a mildly exciting chase scene — with carriages! — following which a meeting with the true villain of our piece lends the movie a certain amount of intrigue for about a minute or so (hello, Rose McGowan! Don’t you look creepy?). But then it all goes downhill again with dull fireside chats and the realization that The Chick — name? who cares? — is the “pure blood” that our bad guys need for some dark purpose or other about which I simply didn’t care enough to really try and understand.
There’s lots of wandering over bleak, ravaged lands and more killing and flexing of admittedly impressive musculature. There’s wholesale slaughter in creative — if needlessly so — ways; a not-unwatchable fight with some nicely rendered sand demon guys conjured by evil sorceress Rose McGowan (I knew she was an evil sorceress! Just look at her outfit!); and I found the fact that the invincible Conan was worsted in a fight with main baddie Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) kind of satisfying, in a weird way.
At one point, there is an actual explosion, which I liked, even if it did confuse me no end.
But between the motley and unmemorable characters, the bizarrely unexplained flurries of most probably made-up language, a strange piratical adventure on the high seas for no good reason, an ill-defined premise (the friend with whom I watched this movie turned to me, over half-way through, and asked in perplexity: “So, do we know what the point of all this fighting is?”), and a forced romance as gratuitous as it is demeaning, I just… no. This movie: no.
As to the actors… well, Momoa gnashes his teeth a lot, speaks in an almost Vader-esque baritone and appears to think that “shouting” and “acting” are pretty much the same thing. Most of the other performances are similarly eyeroll-worthy. I will say that Rose McGowan plays her creeptastic sociopath with an insane yet vaguely seductive relish that I would have enjoyed seeing more of (you know, if this movie had been Marique the Sorceress, I might even now be saying good things about it), and Ron Perlman’s turn at the beginning of the film, as Conan’s doomed father, is as good as everything Ron Perlman does, because Ron Perlman is a damn fine actor who deserves better than this shit.
In a conclusion that is the anti of climactic, Conan overcomes in yet another dramatic, yet strangely tedious, battle: y’know, exactly as you’d expect. And in the end, as at the beginning and throughout almost all of the middle, I find myself back to that word: no.
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman
US Release Date: August 19, 2011