Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Marcus Nispel
Stars: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang, Rachael Nichols, Morgan Freeman.
Long before he was the Terminator, or even the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role of Conan the Cimmerian warrior first created by Robert E Howard in a series of fantasy novels in the 1930s. Schwarzenegger made the role his own in both Conan The Barbarian (1982), directed by John Milius, and the 1984 sequel Conan The Destroyer, directed by Richard Fleischer.
In this unnecessary and misguided remake Hawaiian-born actor Jason Momoa steps into the role, but barely does it justice. Momoa has ten years of television work behind him, having appeared in series like Baywatch and Game Of Thrones, etc, but he has all the charisma, personality and emotional range of a plank of wood. Admittedly, he has the flowing locks and the rippling muscles and brawny presence that perfectly suits the physical demands of the film though.
Conan was born on a battlefield via a Caesarean, and grows up steeped in the way of the warrior. When he watches his father (Ron Perlman) killed by the ruthless warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar villain Stephen Lang), the teenaged Conan grows up to seek vengeance. Conan becomes one of the fiercest warriors in the land, freeing slaves and defending the various kingdoms from evil rulers. Zym is in possession of a mask that gives him supernatural powers, and is creating mayhem and bloodshed across the kingdom. To save the kingdom of Hyboria from the clutches Zym and his evil sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) Conan strides into battle armed with his powerful sword and little else.
Marcus Nispel, a German born director of music videos, has made a career out of rehashing classic films (the recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, etc), and he handles the material with a lack of restraint and subtlety. When sword strikes flesh here, the blood fairly spurts, flows, splatters and flies thick and fast. The sound mix is also turned up to the max, and every sword strike registers with a resounding thunk! This version of Conan is quite blood thirsty and graphically violent, and is at times quite unpleasant stuff. The highlight is an energetic scene in which Conan fights a handful of warriors magically created from dust. The relentless, non-stop violence is almost like a video game, and the target audience of adolescent boys will relish it!
The messy and disjointed script has been written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (Sahara, The Sound Of Thunder, etc) in collaboration with Sean Hood (Halloween Resurrection, etc), but a lot of it is pure nonsense. The B-grade dialogue is often quite clunky, but it is delivered with po-faced earnestness by the cast.
Rachel Nichols plays the feisty Tamara, “the pure blood descendant” of ancient rulers that Zym needs to sacrifice in order to secure his power. Morgan Freeman lends authority to the opening scenes with his familiar voice over narration, but otherwise his presence is wasted.
The film was shot on location in Bulgaria, which offers a perfect landscape for the primitive and desolate fantasy world of Hyboria. But many of the key sets look decidedly second rate, and there are some obviously CGI created sets as well.
I’m so over the phenomenon of needlessly retrofitting these big budget action blockbusters for 3D that I saw the 2D version of Conan, and found it to be perfectly adequate. This remake bears little semblance to the Conan of old. However, this version of Conan The Barbarian again raises the question of why Hollywood is so bankrupt of new ideas that it has to (badly) remake classic films and trample all over the treasured memories of our childhood.