Conan the Barbarian, 2011.
Directed by Marcus Nispel.
Starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan and Bob Sapp.
Conan the Cimmerian journeys across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and slaughter of his village.
*** SPOILERS ***
I went into Conan with very measured expectations. I asked myself what one could reasonably expect going into a Conan? I’d ask you before reading on to ask yourself the same… “What will make a good Conan film?” I settled on four key elements: violence, sorcery, cool tenacious one-liners, and an exceptionally buff gentleman assaying the role of Conan. Now on those four criteria alone you’d probably say that this was a perfect film. However I found myself immediately and suddenly put off from the moment the film began. From the opening battle where Conan’s mother, dying on a battlefield, cuts his writhing baby body out of her one stomach, only to have his father Corin (Ron Perlman) Rafiki (The Lion King)-style hoist him into the air victoriously – I had the distinct feeling that I should have stripped down and began masturbating with the blood of a recently sacrificed animal. I think that opening the film like that – without even the briefest moment for me to care about the characters – may have altered my viewing irrevocably. Let may say though once again, this was not a horrible film by any stretch, but I think that several elements had me on the wrong foot.
The sorcery element is good, played out by Marique (Rose McGowan) as the tool of her father Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). I have to say that I’m really getting sick of Stephen Lang being typecast in his Avatar-esque one dimensional, bad guy, role. He’s such a phenomenally great actor, and if you see him in something like Public Enemies you’ll realise that he doesn’t have to bounce around playing everything big to be frightening and intense. The special effects are used sparingly and I think that it allowed you to suspend your disbelief. McGowan really suits the sorceress and does well in her mutated form.
The best element of the film is by far Jason Momoa – his physical presence and intensity does real justice to the Conan role and is far enough away from Schwarzenegger’s original role that he makes his mark. He delivers great (and often misogynistic) one-liners that sting like barbs to his antagonists. He also looks the barbarian part even more convincingly than Arnold. Arnold fit the Conan title because it is an evocative larger than life name – Momoa looks like a savage (which he does a smashing job as in the first series of Game of Thrones).
Director Marcus Nispel’s focused, and at times claustrophobic scenes take away all of the scope that you may be expecting in a sword and sandals flick – which helps you be up close and personal with every piece of the brutality. I don’t know if it subverted my expectations by bringing you closer to the brutality – but at times when I really wanted to see the brute force of Conan (Momoa) in action against a swathe of enemies in a less subjective view. In fact at times I think that the directorial decisions take away from Momoa’s presence on screen.
In the spirit of the 80s sword and sandals flicks – there is also an exceptionally tacky sex scene where Conan deflowers the pure blood Tamara (Rachel Nichols), required to fulfil the villains plans for world domination. It occurs only after Conan’s pirate ship is attacked by the villains’ forces and we see the lady in question brutally murder a few people for the cause – only then will she be worthy of a good rogering.
Unconsciously this review is coming off far worse than I initially intended. I really think that fans of the genre will enjoy it and find it worth their money. But increasingly I found that it ticked all the boxes – there was much more that I didn’t like in this movie – than the things that I did. If it does get a sequel – Momoa must stay; with some tweaking in the story and directorial departments – Conan could live on. But don’t forget the blood of a sacrificial (insert dead animal carcass here) if and when you get along.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.