Conan the Barbarian – Review


More Like Conan: Adventures of the Baywatch Barbarian

Can you relaunch a franchise that’s significantly attached to a star no longer on board? McG tried to do that to the Terminator franchise, envisioning it as a war film, but without the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger it felt flat despite fairly significant box office receipts. Now Marcus Nispel will try with yet another signature of the Schwarzenegger catalog, Conan the Barbarian, a reboot of a franchise that has stalled since Conan the Destroyer.

Jason Momoa steps into Schwarzenegger’s boots as the titular Conan. Seeing his father (Ron Perlman) killed in front of him as a child by a warlord (Stephen Lang) and his magical daughter (Rose McGowan) on a quest for a weapon of immeasurable power. Years later, with Conan as an adult, he has one goal: kill them all. And as an audience member you’ll have one thought on your mind as well: “When’s this going to end?” And it’s mainly because it has a main character that’s unlikeable in nearly every aspect, though the film’s generally bad story-telling and over-use of narration has a part in it.

The reboot of Conan is relentlessly awful in one way: it’s treatment of Conan, though not because of Jason Momoa, formerly a star on Baywatch and the man to step into Arnold’s shoes as Conan. He’s actually not a bad actor and has legitimate screen presence and charisma. In a better film this would be something that would turn him into a star the same way it did for Arnold. He has everything you’d want out of a new actor to step into legendary shoes. But he has two main problems: it’s a bad character with bad motivations.

Conan is not intended to be a virtuous character, far from it, but part of a good cinematic character is that they have a redeeming quality. Conan through Schwarzenegger was a wayward soul who finds his path wandering the world. Conan through Momoa is a relentlessly nasty person who is better suited to be the heavy than the hero. His quest for vengeance gives him some likeability but it seems to be almost a screenwriter’s challenge to create a character so relentlessly nasty and still see if the audience will buy them as a hero.

All he’d need to fit in to a film set in recent times would be as a villain in with some gel in his hair and a Tapout t-shirt.

The other problem is that Momoa isn’t given much to do and given a character that’s as nearly a big of a villain as the man who slaughtered his family. Conan may be going for vengeance, an easy to understand motive, but he does in such a violent and relentless path it’s a bit off-putting. He’s no better in terms of how he acts and handles himself as the man he’s chasing; the film’s violent finale feels more like two fantasy villains taking one another on as opposed to a hero battling his nemesis. When he does something that’s of good intentions it feels out of character, as well. In the beginning he takes on some slave-traders because “no man deserves to be in chains.” That would work for the Schwarzenegger version of Conan, formerly a slave set free by his master, but Momoa’s Conan doesn’t have that particular back-story. He’s made his living as a thief since he was a child and his family was slaughtered; he’s done some bad things and his heart has been hardened somewhat to it all. He wouldn’t have that kind of sympathy and feels grafted on to make us like Conan when it would be out of character for him to have those feelings.

Other than that the film is actually fairly competently put together. Marcus Nispel has never been known for being anything more than a Rob Cohen type, a music video director hired for big budgeted projects not worth much from a story-telling perspective. The film is visually arresting at times, though done in by bad CGI at others, but nothing about the film makes for compelling cinema.

When the worst film of 2011 is selected, Conan the Barbarian will be amongst the candidates and easily the favorite to win.

Director: Marcus Nispel
Notable Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard
Writer(s): Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood, based on the character created by Robert E. Howard

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