Fri 19 Aug 2011
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”
Hearing those words means “Conan the Barbarian” is playing on a screen nearby. Well, it means the 1982 version is playing nearby. Nearly 30 years later, a new bite at the franchise apple is upon us. (Does Hollywood even read original scripts anymore, or must every movie come with pre-owned rights and the promise of a built-in audience?)
Irregardless of that tangent, this review should be prefaced with the fact that this particular film critic isn’t all that familiar with the work of Robert E. Howard, who originated the character of Conan the Barbarian. Instead, my knowledge of this entry in the sword and sorcery genre comes from former California Governor and current father of our country, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So upon hearing a reboot was in the works, and that actor Jason Momoa (known best for his role as Khal Drogo on “Game of Thrones”) was cast into the title role, my expectations were low … REALLLY LOW. There’s just something about the word “barbarian” that makes the notion of hearing Momoa run around and speak generally decent English not all that appealing.
In any case, the film begins on the right foot – earning its R-rating. Whether it’s plenty of half naked women, watching a young Conan (played well by Leo Howard) pummel some enemies and bring their severed heads back to show his father, or seeing the grown up Conan stick his finger deep into an enemy’s wound to speed up an interrogation, there are plenty of elements early on that give viewers hope they’re in for something truly worthy of the legacy this franchise spawned.
Stephen Lang is a good choice to play the villain, Rose McGowan is an even better choice to play his creepy sorceress daughter, and Rachel Nichols ably kept my attention whether it was as love interest to Momoa or potential sacrifice for Lang.
Where then does the film fall short? Mostly in being too long … and by that, I mean it would have been best to cut nearly everything that takes place past the halfway mark (with the film clocking in at 112 minutes, that’s a problem). It’s almost as if there were two separate films: the bloody, action heavy, R-rated beginning and the tedious, eye-rolling, PG-13 conclusion.
Seeing the young Conan strive to be a great warrior and allowing Momoa’s early scenes to be dominated with a true sense that this is one badass warrior people shouldn’t say no to, is where the film excels. As the script seems to succumb to laziness and director Marcus Nispel’s apparent love of fight scenes centered around set pieces more likely to be seen in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel, whatever hope and excitement that’s earned early on quickly turns to chuckling and head shaking.
For action junkies, there are a few good scenes and there was a nice sense of nostalgia being treated to a return of the sword and sorcery genre (last year’s “Clash of the Titans” should simply be forgotten and expunged). However, for all the effort Momoa put into the role, anyone attached to Arnold’s take will simply think they’re watching a better groomed imitation. A 3 out of 5, I can understand being reasonably entertained but the lack of justifiable need to reboot this and the sheer dichotomy of this update to “Conan the Barbarian” make it far more of a DVD rental than a must see on the big screen.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the 3D, don’t. Unless you think paying a few extra bucks to see the opening and end credits in 3D is worth it. Or you like cheaply inserted foreground elements to try and play up the notion that there’s depth to the landscape. In that case, knock yourself out.