Conan the Barbarian is longer than it needs to be. That’s not hard, because it should be a total of zero minutes. It’s that bad, folks.
Here’s a preview (warning: violence and even a flash of sensuality in the clip):
Released August 19, 2011
Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood (Based on the novellas and stories by Robert E. Howard.)
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Starring Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, and Nonso Anozie
* * * * *
Conan (Momoa) is a Cimmerian, a barbarian who lives by the sword. He was born by emergency slashing on a gory battlefield. How he was fed as a newborn is not an issue worthy of this film, so we move on to seeing him as an aggressive, devoted barbarian son. His village is destroyed, his father murdered, by a mean guy named Khalar Zyn (Lang) who is trying to rebuild an ancient, powerful artifact that will give him the power to resurrect his beloved witch-wife. Zyn is accompanied by some hulking thugs and his creepy witch-daughter Marique (McGowan).
Conan survives the destruction of his village and father and searches the land for his father’s murderer. We next see him as a hulking brute who is freeing a bunch of slaves, joined by his apparently good friend Artus (Anonzie). Conan is now an accomplished bandit, thief, warrior, sailor, and womanizer. Soon after freeing the slaves, Conan sees one of Zyn’s hulking thugs and uses that thug to get a lead on where Zyn is.
Conan catches up with Zyn just in time to rescue a female monk who might be the pure blood that Zyn and his daughter are looking for. This is Tamara (Nichols), who is tough when the plot wants her to be but screams whenever the sound editor runs out of ideas. The story plugs along as Tamara and Conan don’t get along initially but quickly become loyal to each other as they see each other’s mettle.
All of this leads to the climactic battle to save Tamara from becoming the reincarnated witch wife of Zyn.
Conan is a great character in Howard’s books. He’s unequivocally brutal and a serial womanizer, but he lives by a very stern code of honor. You should read them, so go check them out at Amazon. Conan in the new Conan the Barbarian is brutal, womanizing, cruel, and lives by one code: revenge. When Tamara shows up, she is a convenient way to try to make this guy somewhat sympathetic, but he’s still a mean guy who actually seems to lose some of his punch when Tamara’s around. Momoa plays the always-angry, brooding, vicious Conan very well- he may be a better actor than Schwarzzenegar was at the time the first Conan movies were made.
So the character of Conan in the new Conan the Barbarian is a little simplistic and a little stupid, so he’s kind of frustrating. The rest of the characters are flat stereotypes; even Tamara is flat, despite a rather lame attempt to make her a strong female character. We know nothing about these people and don’t give a tinker’s cuss about what happens to them.
Essentially, throughout the movie, we’re waiting for the good parts. Interestingly, I would imagine that’s how it is with porn– waiting for the ‘good’ parts. Frankly, Conan the Barbarian made me feel inside how I think porn would make me feel: uncomfortable and kind of gross and ashamed of myself. What’s more, there’s a lot of upper body female nudity, and there’s no need for it, except that this is a Conan movie.
Which brings us to one of the two major, global problems with this film, despite its attempt to stick to the source material better than the original Conan films. Where the old Conan films were campy and over-wrought, the new Conan the Barbarian is gratuitous and gratuitous. The sounds of splattering blood, the flying gore, the hacked off limbs: they all make this movie feel like a slasher film. Instead of pausing a couple of beats to focus in on mangled human bodies, maybe the filmmakers could have paused a couple of beats to let scenes transition well and build a little.
Then there’s the gratuitous nudity. I know that the source material had naked ladies etc, but I don’t need to see a bunch of breasts to have a good Conan experience. Surely the filmmakers could have used some imagination.
So the sheer gratuitousness of the violence and nudity is problem one.
Problem two is the way the story is told. Transitions between scenes are non-existent, with sometimes no logical reason for one scene to move to the next. It’s jarring. What’s more, there are scenes that are added for one very transparent purpose. For example, the battle on the ship is obviously there so Tamara can show she is a fierce fighter, so Conan will respect her. Then there’s the carriage in the attack on Tamara’s monastery. Why is it there? I’ll tell you: so it can be destroyed spectacularly.
All of that said, there’s some great production design and cinematography. The completeness of the Cimmerian village is really great.
It’s strange to have so thoroughly disliked this film, while still really appreciating Jason Momoa in this role. I loved his look and manner. I loved his fighting style.
But give me Arnie’s mumblings and campy brawn any day.
Content warnings: Lots of splattering, messy violence with hacked-off extremities. Plenty of top nudity and sexual activity. Almost no profanity.
Writing: 1.5 Acting: 2 (Momoa raises it from 1) Overall: 1.5
Think I’m off my rocker? Check out Rotten Tomatoes and see just how right I am.
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