Conan The Barbarian

All those skulls are people who died of
"Enter an Age Undreamed of."

This is very true. I don't spend a lot of time dreaming about really vague generic fantasy settings, where no one does anything that I find even remotely interesting. That is the magical land of the Hyborian Age in the 2011 reinterpretation of  Robert E. Howard's fantasy universe (From what I recall the Hyborian Age is the fantasy equivalent of George Lucas' 'a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.'). After floating around in development limbo for the better part of a decade, changing production companies several times in the process, the studio system finally shat out this cinematic disaster. For those late to this particular subject, Conan the Barbarian, or Conan the Cimmerian was a character created by the aforementioned Mr. Howard, in fantasy stories serialized in the Weird Tales periodical  in the 1930s . In the early '80s several films were made based around this character starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and these films would garner him recognition worldwide as an action hero. Despite mixed reactions from critics they were also notably some of the first films based on comics and pulp fiction to actually turn a profit, cracking the door open for what would eventually become our comic-book infested free-for-all present. But this review isn't about those films. This review is about a much worse film.

God narrates some of the most uninteresting information
you're ever liable to hear.
I became immediately confused when, rather than show me things about this savage world of the distant fictional past, I was treated to a fairly lengthy voice over that established this was a place where people lived and killed each other, and once there was a really evil lady. She had a scary mask that I'm pretty sure she took from the Kali cult leader in the Temple of Doom, and it let her kill everyone and do scary magic stuff, but then a bunch of barbarian tribes whipped her ass and broke it to pieces and hid them. This told me that someone was going to try and reassemble the badmask and kill everyone again. Did I mention this voiceover was delivered by Morgan Freeman? I found that to be a pretty curious choice for a movie steeped in blood and tits, rather than a movie about marching penguins.

They made a movie that actually made me wish I was
watching Season of the Witch.
After this narration my warning bells really started to go off. You see, the first action scene shows Conan being born, and his dad is portrayed by Ron Perlman. Generally speaking I have a pretty simple formula that warns me if a movie is going to be bad or not. 1)Does Ron Perlman appear in the movie in any way (note that this excludes voice acting credits and tv shows)? 2)Is this movie Hellboy? If the answer to the first question is yes and the second is no, I'm probably about to watch a movie that is not very good/really really bad. This rule has been wrong only once ever in my recollection, when he appeared in the 2011 Drive as a gangster, but I think that is an acceptable margin of error. Ron Perlman is only present for the very early portion of the film, when Conan is a child. We see him as a boy just long enough for him to kill some dudes in an improbable battle scene (scrawny kid kills about 6 full grown warrior men) and then have his whole tribe including his father massacred by the man looking for badmask (dundundun!) The movie then treats us to more voice over from Morgan Freeman, and skips over all the formative years of Conan's life, to make sure there's no chance of any character development taking place where someone might see it.

Remember, if his hair is tied back and he has a beard, he's
Khal Drogo and not Conan.
 Now Conan is all grown up and shirtless (Jason Momoa, who most notably played Khal Drogo in the HBO Game of Thrones television adaptation)  and is also a pirate, though we don't see him do much other than kill some slavers (This is about the most we get from the movie in terms of learning about Conan. He doesn't like slavers). He runs across the girl that the evil warlord wants to use to bring back his dead evil wife using badmask, and after killing the warlord's henchmen decides he's going to protect her, kill evil warlord, get revenge, see his enemies driven before him etc. I say etc. there because I don't really care about any of this. Rather, I really don't care about any of this. This movie was full of 3-D spectacle, and bloody sword violence, and licentious barbarian ladies with no shirts walking around to be sexy background, but ultimately there is no character in this whole movie who even approaches something that would qualify as interesting. They are all the crudest cookie cutter examples of their fantasy archetype possible. The bad guy wants to resurrect his evil witch wife, his daughter is a evil witch that has weird sex feelings about him (and they never even give THAT more than passing attention) Conan is HeroGuy and he has his friends PirateMan, ScrawnyRogueDude and DamselWho'sToughterThanSheLooks.

Rose McGowan takes this opportunity to creep us the hell out.
To make it worse, this movie features some seriously deficient pacing. I get that what they are trying to do is establish an epic scope, to try and impress me with this wide world and all its exotic wonderment or whatever the hell, but what makes that work in other movies is establishing a world with details that engross you, and showing meaningful, deep relationships between characters who possess more than one dimension (There's a cheap joke to be made about the movie being in 3-D here but I'm not going to stoop to that level...this time). I don't care about these characters, so I don't care about what they're doing in this bland fantasy world. I care so little about them that actually the action isn't really all that interesting. I don't care what happens to Conan, the sacrifice girl, or this whole world, because it is a blank and meaningless place. The movie doesn't even run a full two hours, but it felt to me like I was sitting in front of my tv for at least three.

I'm so pissed this is only half way through the movie.
The bottom line here is that while action movies don't need to be all about their characters and thoughtful story, you do actually need to have characters and a story. Even other movies I've reviewed here that I admitted were fairly superficial or story-light (Demolition Man for instance) still take the time to convince you at least in passing that the main character is a person not just a sword wielding mannequin trying to exact vague, generic revenge.

The acting talent on tap doesn't exactly alleviate the pain of this non-existant plot. Stephen Lang, who you may remember from James Cameron's Avatar as the jackass army colonel who wants everyone to kill the furries (and that was such a stellar role) plays the evil warlord what's-his-face (I seriously had no idea what his name was. I guess it's Khalar Zym). Rose McGowan plays his evil daughter (whose name is evidently Marique) who is really creepy and gross while still being totally forgettable (I looked up some pictures and I think Rose has had some unfortunate cosmetic surgery, because she basically just looks like Marique with eyebrows. The rest of the cast is rounded out with leftovers from the G.I. Joe movie (which actually had a more interesting cast of characters and plot somehow) with Rachel Nichols as Tamara, the sacrifice girl, and Said Taghmaoui (that's a mouthful) as Conan's... friend? acquaintance he freed from slavery I guess? I don't know. The point is unremarkable cast does nothing I cared about. Jason Momoa does the best he can with the role, but with so little to go on I don't think I can blame him for anything that happened.

Here at least is one movie that received the cinematic reception it so justly deserved. With a budget of 90 million, this movie managed to barely grasp 48 million worldwide during its theatrical run, making it the disaster that its creators earned for themselves. I'd like to imagine they might learn from their mistakes, but I think we all know better. Let my experience help you avoid this movie, if you want to watch a barbarian action movie, watch the original, and if you want to watch Jason Momoa kill people without a shirt, watch Game of Thrones.

Join me again on Thursday, when I talk about a remake of another Schwarzenegger remake, this time the sci-fi action Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel (ouch).
Featuring revolvers that never run out of bullets.

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