Conan the Barbarian Review: Sex, Swords and Sorcery

 

The Basics

Here is the official synopsis of the movie:

The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.

Director: Marcus Nispel

Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood

Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan

The Delivery

The story on a whole is your typical warrior quest complete with the prerequisite amount of battles, blood and boobs. A Morgan Freeman-esque voice was used for the narration of this film to give it some gravitas amidst the violence and clanging of steel on steel and steel on bone. The gist of the Conan story is still the same even if the details are different.

Within the first minute of the movie we receive our first shot of female breasts and some battle carnage. One thing this film did better than the original was to give the viewer more of a sense of connection with Conan. We empathized with a child growing up without a mother and understood his anger. Leo Howard gives a staunch and believable performance as the young Conan who grows up wanting to avenge the death of his father.

 

 

Conan was born with the blood of battle in his veins, growing to adulthood without his parents. After witnessing the death of his father he vowed to have vengeance against the men who were responsible. Along the way to manhood Conan lives an almost carefree existence, fighting and wenching his way through life, thoughts of avenging his father never far from his mind, and being worthy of his sword a constant ideal.

Conan kept pitching himself into situations where the odds were always greatly stacked against him. He really thrived on his warmongering existence finding battles and trouble where ever he went and wholeheartedly embracing his mantra, “I live, I love, I slay and I am content.” He was a wreckless, rootless barbarian Robin Hood of sorts in the beginning of the story wandering aimlessly it seemed, until a chance opportunity for vengeance arises.

 

 

There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the film though there is a lot of grunting from Conan and a ton of battle cries. The violent action sequences are plenty and at times the noise from clashing swords and the bashing of bodies and skulls is mind numbing and overwhelming. But keep in mind this is a sword and sorcery movie so that is what you came to see and hear.

 

 

As for the sex, I wouldn’t say this was an equal opportunity nudity movie since there are breasts galore in the film, but there is also a gratuitous shot of Momoa’s derriere to appease the female audience after a tasteful love scene which was a few points above superfluous. And while not being completely necessary it was a love scene that was expected.

And then there is the sorcery. Most of it is understated and part of the movie’s mythology. There’s magic tied to the Mask of Acheron and Marique is so obviously a sorceress of some skill, while Khalar Zym wants to practice necromancy and has been waiting 20 years for his chance. And let’s not forget Tamara’s pure blood that has the power to unlock the ancient mask.

The one thing that was pervasive in my mind was that though Momoa made a very intimidating warrior he wasn’t as awe inspiring as his predecessor. Though he can carry the film, his screen presence isn’t as overwhelming or as imposing as Arnold’s Conan and I can’t help but wonder if that is because Arnold was Mr. Universe before he was Conan.

 

 

Thankfully though Momoa didn’t try and do an Arnold impersonation. If he did he would have failed horribly. Instead Momoa brought a different kind of Conan to the screen, one who had a swagger and more appeal for the ladies, smart remarks and quick wit for a barbarian, and a brooding anger always simmering just below the surface. His scar fit right in with his barbarian persona and his scowl was the most menacing as any I’ve ever seen. Admittedly Momoa cut a fine figure when he did his Conan pose and sliced and hacked with his sword.

 

 

The Scorecard

Acting – Jason Momoa did a good job as the new Conan and casting him as the iconic Cimmerian was very good decision. Leo Howard’s performance was definitely riveting and one of my favorites in the film. Rachel Nichols as Tamara was a refreshing spitfire who I could see Conan falling for. Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym wasn’t as over the top of a villain as he usually is though he did manage the role with his usual finesse. Ron Perlman as Corin was the epitome of the loving warrior dad, and Rose McGowan as Marique was the unexpected surprise of the film playing an eerie, creepy and evil villainess quite well, vamping around half naked with a pronounced receding hairline and almost overshadowing Lang as Conan’s nemesis.

Directing – Marcus Nispel has a music video background and I found his style of filming interesting. The battle sequences were very fast paced and full throttle while the quieter moments were handled with a sparseness quite fitting to a movie like this.

Writing – The story was quite a departure from the original movie, so much so that one could say the new Conan lore harkens back to the books. There was some homage paid to the original film but it was obvious right from the get go that this wasn’t a remake of an original but a new franchise with a familiar character.

Sound – The score when you could hear it was perfect for the film hinting at a distant time and a distant land where magic and barbarians could have lived, loved, slayed and been content. The sounds of battle, violence and Marique’s finger nails scraping against stone were jarring and overwhelming to the senses but more than suitable for this fare.

Visuals – The 3D didn’t seem to make much of a difference and I could have done without it. The landscapes were dark and stark if not quite epic while the effects were very graphic. There was nothing mind boggling really and the standout scene for me was the fight with the sand warriors.

 

 

Overall

Obviously this film was made with fans of the cult classic in mind to a certain extent, though rigorous adherence to the original went out the window for the most part. Fans of the books will be pleased and most viewers will unavoidably compare this Conan to the old Conan. Mostly this was a film that was made for boys between the ages of 15 to 25 who like role playing video games filled with mayhem and carnage, or anyone who is a fan of sex, swords and sorcery movies.

Conan the Barbarian gets a 6.5 out of 10.

Extra Thoughts

You have to give Jason Momoa credit. He did his best to fill some titan sized barbarian boots. Whenever a remake is done of a cult classic that has such an archetypal, legendary and iconic character emblazoned in everyone’s mind, anything that comes after will unfortunately pale in comparison. While Conan the Barbarian was definitely not the best the film of the summer, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. And while Momoa didn’t erase the memory of Arnold from our consciousness, he did manage to put a fresh take on an old story and give a fresh face to a well known Cimmerian warrior.