Conan the Barbarian: A Review

The reboot of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s debut film in 1982 had all the basic elements that made the 80’s cult classic a hit. It had a ripped action hero, a damsel in distress, a villain who wants to rule the land, miles and miles of rocky terrain and a lot of people who seem like they never take a bath. However, despite the updated CGI and action scenes, the 2011 version sadly falls short of its predecessor and comes off as a watered down episode in the franchise.

The basic story is similar but there were a lot of elements added to make it different. The lead character Conan is literally born in the middle of a battle between attackers and his tribe. He grows up with his father (Ron Perlman), the  blacksmith and leader of the Cimmerian tribe. The Cimmerians are barbarians and among the chief contributors to the downfall of of the Acherons, a tribe which used a powerful and mystical mask fed by the blood of their daughters to rule the hybolians. As the Acherons fall, the mask is destroyed into many pieces and hidden by the different barbarian tribes  so that its power will not be used for evil again.

Generations  later, Khalar Zym, a ruthless warlord and his posse of psychotic henchmen, attempt to reassemble the mask to revive its power. Zym wants to rebuild the mask which is still missing one more piece in order to become invincible and revive his wife, a sorceress who has been burned to death for using her magic for nefarious purposes. Zym launches an attack on the Cimmerian village and  manages to secure the last piece but in order to activate its power, he must sacrifice a pureblood, a descendant of the Acherons, whom he has yet to find. Zym burns down the village and leaves everyone for dead, unaware that the young Conan has survived and will spend the next 20 years trying to avenge the death of his people and keep Zym from achieving his goal.

In all fairness, Conan was a passable film. It had a sound musical scoring and good cinematography. The fight scenes were well choreographed, with blood and guts aplenty.The problem was that it seemed like a generic action/adventure piece despite its efforts to steer away from the original version. The movie to me, felt like a cross among The Mummy, Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans except that Conan did not have any of the elements that made these three films strong. First thing that it lacked was a sympathetic action hero. The new Conan (Jason Momoa) to his credit tried to become a dark and brooding hero, but only came across as a stiff savage that threw people around. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not have been the best actor of his generation, but one thing’s for sure,  he had charisma, a characteristic that Momoa sadly did not have. Perhaps, this is due to Momoa’s inability to show any emotion other than anger as his eyes were stuck in a state of perpetual squint and his face carved in an eternal scowl. The pacing was also a tad uneven as there were many lulls in the middle of the film where the villains (or Conan) seem to be enjoying their monologues too much that it gets tedious for the audience.

CONAN MAD. Jason Momoa's expression for 110 minutes of the 112-minute film. I'm not kidding.

While action adventures often inject a bit of humor to spice up the movie, Conan made the mistake of taking itself too seriously. As a result, any attempt to change the tone of the movie, whether it be to drama or comedy,  failed miserably. Compounding its woes, the film also suffered from villains who played their parts straight out of the book. There was really nothing new in the types of bad guys portrayed by Rose McGowan as Zym’s sadistic daughter Marique and her power hungry father (Stephen Lang) Zym. They just felt like lukewarm copycats of  Baby Firefly (Devil’s Rejects) and Imotep (The Mummy). They didn’t spark any sort of emotion from me at all, except tiredness from waiting for their eventual end.

Another thing I generally found hard to wrap my head around was the excessive violence illustrated by a young Conan which was encouraged by his tribe. While it would have been good to show his courage and dedication in wanting to become a warrior, killing and beheading enemies (and seemingly enjoying it) seemed a bit off for a boy who is no more than 12-years-old. Another fact that I disliked was that Conan grew up not heeding his father’s advice. He was brash and cocky and let his temper get the best of him most of the time. I understand that he’s a barbarian and therefore lacking in manners but basic human decency and a sense of right and wrong should still at least be present in a man “who has the heart of a king,” as he is described by his sidekick.

So in the end, there really was no great moral lesson to the story. They should have left the original well enough alone. The reboot, while not horrible, is quite forgettable and unnecessary to the franchise, in my humble opinion. Just saying.