Conan the Barbarian
Barbaric! - Who doesn't love brawny heroes burping blunt caveman mantras?
Published: August 19, 2011
Conan the Barbarian
With every other bit of scrap salvaged from the '80s cultural slagheap, barbarian movies were bound to get another box-office shot at glory; in these confusing, ambiguous and contentious times, it's tempting to be seduced by a brawny hero with a blunt caveman mantra: "I live, I love, I slay. I am content." (Sounds like Rick Perry just found a campaign slogan.)
Some voice-of-God narration establishes the backstory about a missing all-powerful mask of arcane power, and Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) the scheming warlord bound to conquer the ancient realm of Hyboria with it. If only there were someone to oppose him!
Born on the battlefield, young Conan is schooled in the "mystery of steel" and the finer points of slaughter by his grizzled warrior-chief dad, played by ur-tough guy Ron Perlman (Hellboy), until Zym's rampaging army massacres his village and drops a bucket of molten lead on Pops. This tends to cheese a kid off, and Conan spends the next two decades honing his swordsmanship and perfecting his nasty scowl while seeking revenge on the baddie who wiped out his tribe.
Robert E. Howard's most famous character is a man of action not words, and this time he speaks in more of a surfer-dude drawl than the brutal Austrian grunts of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not that the forgettable script gives much to chew on, it lacks the ironic, crooked wit that John Milius (drinking buddy to F.F. Coppola and George Lucas) gave to the 1982 original.
While nobody will ever be quite as absurdly ripped to the gills as Mr. Universe Arnie, the new guy, Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), is plenty buff, with his mammoth man-tits looking like buoys on an ocean of grease and sweat.
He's eager to rub that animal charisma all over the lovely Tamara Rachel Nichols, a "pureblood" priestess whose purity is fairly dubious after a sweaty barbaric boff session with old muscle-brain. The villains are also after this comely prize — as her blood is the key to powering the mask, making for the coveted double-McGuffin young screenwriters drool over. As Zym's freaky, wicked witch daughter, Rose McGowan looks like she's been snorting ground-up emo powder, with pasty skin, a high forehead and raccoon eye make-up, a get-up apparently lifted from ex-beau Marilyn Manson.
Director Marcus Nispel has helmed previous gory reboots, such the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, and he approaches this task with workmanlike German precision. The whole affair buries the needle on the stupid-meter, with a droning score and the most ear-shattering sound effects in recent memory, plus pointless 3-D and a visual style about as subtle as the side of one of those old air-brushed conversion vans. The body count is astronomical, with plenty of busted bones, crushed skulls and scores of naked damsels to push the hard-R rating — yet, somehow, mindless savagery ain't as fun as it used to be.
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