Conan the Barbarian is a bloody mess…literally & figuratively.
The 112 minute reboot of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classics (?) from the 80s – based on the stories from the 30s and the comic from 70s – isn’t supposed to be award-winning filmmaking by any means. But it could at least be competent right? Put it this way, if someone asked this guy who directed this flick without looking at the info on IMDb.com or glancing at the end credits, my answer would have been Uwe Boll.
Now unless you’re a fellow film journalist and/or aficionado, the above director reference may not leave an impression on you. Let’s just say Mr. Boll only wins awards that begin with an “R” and end with an “azzie.” In other words, the anti-Oscar. Nevertheless, the general ideas instilled from the original Conan entries are displayed by director Marcus Nispel, and there are some exciting moments that unfold in this fantasy/adventure action piece.
Born into a barbarian clan of Sumerian, young Conan (Leo Howard) is raised by his warrior father (Ron Perlman) amidst many of the fellow tribes being wiped out by an evil warlord in Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). Khalar leads his army of hulking warriors in the hopes of finding pieces of an ancient mask in order to attain god-like powers. By his side, is his sorcerer daughter Marique (Rose McGowan looking like a cenobite from Hellraiser), who guides her father to find not only the mask, but also the “pure blood” that can unleash its powers. So of course, Conan and his pops are hiding the last piece and Khalar dismantles the last Samarian tribe to get what he wants.
Jump twenty years later and the scrawny boy who survived has now become Conan the professional wrestler (Jason Momoa). All hulked up and looking for revenge, Conan is able to finally track down Khalar’s armies and begins to extract his said revenge by plucking off all of the dark lord’s best warriors. While he’s carving through flesh with his steroidal sword, he learns that Khalar is after a gorgeous monk named Tamara (Rachel Nichols). It just happens that Tamara is the pure blood – which is to say a descendant from an ancient tribe that was destroyed over millennia – and Conan uses the feisty beauty as bait to get to Khalar with the goal of avenging his father and his people. And if it’s convenient, he’ll spare the world from a supernatural doom.
Fans of the original make no mistakes about it…this is a Conan movie; complete with brief nods to a couple of favorite characters (who are severely under-developed) from the source material. They even got narrator extraordinaire Morgan Freeman to do the staple opening overdub as seen in the original flicks. Just a shame this re-whatever is a poorly executed one.
Jason Momoa has intensity as the titular (no pun intended, since he never wears a shirt, but sports a nice dress Rowdy Roddy Piper style) but he comes across as if he has no clue what to do with the intense persona (or was given no direction). Aside from an abundance of solid executions in the infinite number of fight scenes – that take place in a variety of settings on land and sea – the only rise Momoa entice out of the audience is when he bluntly orders around his co-star Rachel Nichols caveman style. And speaking of the eye-candy (for the guys) Nichols’ character is given power in her role, similar to Keira Knightley’s in Pirates of the Caribbean. When this angle gets injected, it seems forced and clichéd and negates anything plausible about her performance other than a pretty face and a nice rack.
The action – which is to say meatheads haphazardly swinging swords – is fun to watch – and pleasantly gory – when there is a big battle going on (part of that sentence sounds really gay by the way, just saying). Limbs are severed almost every ten minutes and faces are ripped off every twenty. Even a few supernatural enemies for Conan to chop down come into play in the form of ghostly sand figures (sans the CGI) and a kraken. You can’t have an epic action-fantasy flick without some sort a kraken these days.
Directing and storytelling goes to hell after the first poorly choreographed battle (with the help of up-close spastic camera-cutting) between the protagonist & antagonist. Unfortunately, it’s a choreography trend that continues until the end. At this point, the only cool things to take in are the set designs (a blend of CGI and man-made pieces) that provide a decent scope, enabling this period-piece to provide a proper escapism. For instance, seeing a heard of elephants marching a giant ship to the shores is an example of the solid visuals one can explore. There are tons of wide-shots that project the atmosphere fairly well; kind of like a virtual pop-up picture book.
Overall, Conan the Barbarian provides decent period-piece action and appealing visuals here-and-there. It also encompasses dialogue one can barely understand; a story that falls a part before the climax; and questionable acting and directing. But what were you expecting? It’s a Conan movie. The bad parts are laughably good (I couldn’t stop chuckling after the opening sequence). And at least there’s plenty of blood and boobs!
RATING: 2.5 out of 5