Title: Conan the Barbarian
You're...You're Giving This A Positive Review, Aren't You? I am. Because if I don't stand up for hack directors and the beefcake they cast in their movies, who will?
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Thulsa Dooms out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Conan the Cimmerian (Jason Momoa) fights, drinks and fornicates his way across Hyborian-era Earth in search of the man who killed his father.
Is It True Marcus Nispel Has Never Directed An Original Property? Not a one, unless the video for Amy Grant's "House of Love" counts.
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Really, who cares? Khalar Zym, a bad guy bent on world domination, kills young Conan's dad (played with dour paycheck-mindedness by Ron Perlman). Conan grows into a fearsome reaver/thief, and picks up Zym's trail when he chances across Tamara (Rachel Nichols), the "pureblood" Zym seeks to complete the ritual that will turn him into a god. It's basically a combination of the plots of the original Conan and Conan the Destroyer, only somehow goofier (even given the absence of Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain).
What Is Best In Life? You wouldn't know from this movie. That whole thing about enemy crushing and women's lamentation is sadly absent.
"Critical" Analysis: I understand some (okay, lots of) people are jumping on Marcus Nispel's remake of Conan by complaining about the lack of plot. Because the original offered such a compelling narrative, I guess.
Look, I enjoy Arnold's big 1982 coming out party as much as anyone, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking the original Conan the Barbarian was a classic of Western cinema. Ponderous, meandering and occasionally incoherent, the original Conan the Barbarian was notable for two things (no, not Arnold's pecs): Basil Poledouris's score and giving James Earl Jones a mullet.
Nispel's Conan starts with narration by Morgan Freeman (!) and a battlefield C-section and never really lets up from there. Young Conan grows up full of rage -- fire untempered by ice, as his father Corin describes him -- which still serves him well as he single-handedly kills five of Zym's scouts, then deposits their heads at his father's feet. It's not enough to stop the inevitable, when Zym's forces descend upon the Cimmerian village, slaughtering everyone and leaving Conan for dead.
What is Zym's motivation? According to Mr. Freeman, he's seeking all the pieces of a mystical mask that, when combined with the blood of one descended from the mystical sorcerers of Acheron (who enslaved the world back in the day), will confer unspeakable powers upon its wearer. As plots go, it's a hell of a D&D campaign.
So we follow Conan on his pursuit of Zym through places whose names aren't important, and meet a supporting cast whose names we don't care about, because this bare-bones framework is simply the matrix by which gratuitous R-rated mayhem is delivered. Conan is a consummate killing machine, and the bloodshed only lets up long enough for the audience to enjoy some gratuitous nudity.
Conan the Barbarian is as pure an '80s movie as I've seen in 22 years. Momoa rampages for two hours through a cavalcade of blood-soaked encounters and bared breasts, even enjoying the mandatory '80s-style second act sex scene with Tamara, before his final encounter with Zym (and Zym's evil daughter Marique, an unrecognizable Rose McGowan). It drags a bit at the end, as Nispel incorporates the Pirates of the Caribbean trope of having people fight on comically unstable surfaces, but come on, those movies made, like, 800 billion dollars.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
One thing I can say, without reservation, is this version of Conan is truer to Robert E. Howard's literary depiction of the character as a thief and pirate as well as a bulging murder machine.
This isn't great cinema, but so what? Are you sick of PG-13 genre films watering down your sanguinary enjoyment? Have you missed scenes of beefy guys knocking out horses? Do you like movies about
gladiators barbarians? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, give Conan a shot.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. Ignore the pointless 3-D and enjoy some days of high adventure.