The Hyborean Age. Khalar Zym (Lang) murders barbarian chief Corin (Ron Perlman) after taking the last piece of a magic mask. Later, Corins son Conan (Momoa) searches for Khalar Zym, intent on revenge. Khalar Zym needs Tamara (Rachel Nichols), the last of
John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian, which turned Arnold Schwarzenegger from a body-builder with a joke name and accent into a major movie star, casts a long shadow. This isn’t technically a remake — though yet again, the hero is seeking revenge for the murder of his father (the ‘origin’ trauma owes something to Once Upon A Time In The West), while the villain is assembling the plot coupons which will enable him to become an all-powerful bad wizard. The old sword-through-the-name logo gets reused, and even inspires a whole sub-plot for the sword. It might have been wiser to use a different title and another plot — as a radical notion, they might have adapted one of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories, or even the outstanding add-ons to the mythos Roy Thomas scripted for Marvel comics in the ’70s — because this Conan The Barbarian isn’t playing in Milius’ league.
The earlier film had epic scale, surrounding its hero with a credibly savage fantasyland. It’s easy to poke fun at the pulp pretension John Milius added to the mix, with quotes from Nietzsche and the like, but at least he brought a passion for the material to the table. Marcus Nispel, though, has never made a movie that wasn’t a remake or a reboot, and just meets the release date. Jason Momoa carries off the pantaloon kilt and long-hair look familiar from paperback covers and flashes a possibly winning personality despite thuddingly dull dialogue (‘I fight, I slay, I love, I am content’) and poorly edited fight scenes. Momoa isn’t Schwarzenegger (in truth, Conan wasn’t Arnie’s best role — he didn’t really break out until The Terminator), but he’s much better than Michael Donovan or Ralf Moeller, who played Conan in the 1992 and 1998 short-run TV series. Oddly, the script takes the trouble to back-reference the pilot of the Moeller show (released on video as Conan: The Heart Of The Elephant), suggesting this should be seen as a continuation of that, rather than as a relaunch for the movie franchise.
Though it has a decent Conan and a halfway acceptable off-the-peg baddie in Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym, nothing else works. The good girl (Rachel Nichols) is dreary and the bad girl (Rose McGowan) ridiculous — note that the villainess is the only woman in the film who doesn’t show her tits (seven Russian ladies are credited as ‘Topless Wenches’). Characters drift into frame, fight beside or against Conan, and wander off or die without troubling to introduce themselves. The plot meanders from place to place without urgency — when Khalar Zym finally puts on the magic mask, it doesn’t seem to make him more formidable. Action scenes spring up and blow over like summer storms (a carriage chase is the best bit), with moments of CGI-augmented bloodiness which ought to be more shocking than they are. And it has that muddy, ugly, drab look common among mid-range 3D movies. Theoretically exciting, it’s somehow very dull.
Leaving aside Milius’ Conan The Barbarian, this is thinner beer even than Conan The Destroyer, more on the scale of imitations like The Sword And The Sorcerer and Hawk The Slayer – if lacking their intermittent sense of fun. Howard’s fans were better served earlier in the year by Solomon Kane, though that also made the strange decision to use one of his characters but not adapt any of his (still readable and stirring) stories.
Possibly better than Red Sonja or King Kull but lets face it, thats scarcely a major breakthrough. Next time, get a director with a personality and actually read the source stories.