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Review: Conan the Barbarian

The role that gave kicked off the career of our patron saint, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is now in the hands of Game of Thrones/Stargate: Atlantis actor Jason Momoa.  Promising to be closer to the original Robert E Howard stories, the movie is a decent fantasy action movie but definitely doesn’t do anything too new and doesn’t really live up to the legend of the Arnold original.

This new Conan was literally born on the battlefield as his mother is stabbed in the womb and Conan must be cut out of it by his father.  Young Conan learns the ways of the sword from his father but eventually his whole village is slaughtered by troops of Khalar Zym, a warlord who wants to collect the pieces of an ancient mask that will grant him the power to conquer all of the continent of Hyboria.  Conan escapes the carnage and sets out on a life of adventuring but constantly seeks word of Zym so he can get his revenge.  He may get his chance when he comes to the rescue of a lovely female monk who Zym wants for her connection to an ancient bloodline.

Arnold as Conan in the original was a deadly warrior but he was also constantly getting drunk and sleeping with women.  Jason Momoa goes for a more intense and brooding portrayal of the Cimmerian warrior but he doesn’t have a lot charisma or charm and mainly just growls out his lines and does cool poses with his swords.  Young Conan (played by Leo Howard) actually seems like he would be a much more interesting character to follow and I would definitely watch a whole movie of Young Conan and his dad Ron Perlman making swords and killing dudes.  One of the best fight scenes of the movie actually goes to young Conan as he fights a bunch of crazy savages in the woods outside his village.  Stephen Lang, who jumped into the genre spotlight as Col. Quaritch in Avatar, is always a good choice for your bad guy but Zym doesn’t really do anything that interestingly evil or bad ass and is definitely not on the level of James Earl Jones creepy performance as Thula Doom in the original.  Of the two ladies in the movie, Rose McGowan is probably the more interesting, as she chews scenery as Zym’s evil sorceress daughter Marique.  Rachel Nichols, who you probably saw most recently in GI Joe: Rise of Cobra as Scarlett, seems like she’s going to be an ass kicking heroine but quickly devolves into a damsel in distress to the point where, in the last half hour, her dialogue consists almost entirely of screaming.  Something I wish that the movie would have had more of, if only to make it more entertaining, was the narration by, of all people, Morgan Freeman.  Freeman introduces the ridiculous backstory of Hyboria and then gives a quick update on Conan’s adult life and then disappears. The movie would have been a lot more fun if Morgan Freeman was delivering exposition and it would have actually been in tone with the original Conan, which featured tons of voice over from Mako.

Action wise, there’s a few interesting sequences, the aforementioned fight with young Conan is intense and well done and there’s a great sequence where Conan has to fight these zombie sand warriors that Marique conjurs up.  These sand zombie warriors are constantly erupting out of the sand and backflipping back into the sand to dodge Conan’s attacks.  The first part of the final battle between Conan and Zym was pretty interesting as well, as they were battling on a falling circular alter with Rachel Nichols tied up in the middle and the altar rotating in the middle of the fight. Most of the action is your typical fantasy action of guys getting slashed by swords and shot with arrows though, and you can only see it so many times before it gets boring.  I do appreciate the fact that director Marcus Nispel chose to use a lot of practical effects but some more creative violence and kills would have made the movie a lot more entertaining.  I can’t help but wonder what the movie would have been like if a director like Neil Marshall had been at the helm.  Nispel definitely does cover his fantasy bases though as there’s a fight sequence on a pirate ship, magic, a deadly snake monster and more.

Conan is a watchable, fun at times, fantasy action movie that is definitely a step up from the director’s previous effort, Pathfinder, but is definitely not going to become a classic of the genre.  It’s probably not going to be the start of a whole new Conan franchise (especially considering it’s box office performance) and Jason Momoa is certainly not the next Arnold but if you’re a fan of the genre I would say it’s worth a matinee screening (definitely not 3D though) or definitely a DVD/Blu Ray rent

3 out of 5

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