Pity the fool who tries to reprise the role that made Arnold Schwarzegger an icon. In 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, when he was asked “What is best in life?” he responded with the immortal line “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women,” and you smiled in recognition, knowing a movie star had been born.
The new Conan, played by Jason Momoa, might answer the same question with “How about a night in with friends, playing Yahtzee?” Momoa, a familiar face from Game of Thrones to Baywatch, has the muscles but not the imposing persona and barbaric presence that Conan requires. Momoa plays him like a gentle giant — if he hadn’t watched his entire village and family slaughtered as a child, he could have easily become a cook or tailor — and Schwarzenegger’s ghost dogs him in every scene. Even the awful Conan the Destroyer was better than this – and that movie was awful. (Note: I saw the movie in 2D and it looked fine; I can’t imagine what there is to gain from the 3D version, except your money).
Conan was directed by Marcus Nispel, who specializes in slick, unremarkable remakes of hit movies (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th). Nispel is a good shooter and knows how to frame a memorable image, but he has no sense of storytelling or narrative: one thing just leads to another. Conan has two foes to conquer: Khalar (Stephen Lang), who wields a cool double scimitar, and his witchy daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), who excels at using long fingernails to look extra evil. The damsel-in-distress (Rachel Nichols) proves she can take care of herself when she needs to. But it all feels derivative and overdone, including the big finale, which resembles the climax of a James Bond picture. Even Ron Perlman, in the requisite prologue depicting the murder of Conan’s family, looks bored, playing the soon-to-be-slaughtered lamb for the millionth time.
The film has some good production values, and I like the sand monsters that disintegrate when sliced in half, then put themselves back together and return for another attack. There are other fantastical creatures, including a giant CGI serpent, and a couple of good gross-outs, like Conan sticking his finger into the face of a man whose nose has been sliced off.
What’s missing here is a grasp of Robert E. Howard’s original creation, which was the sense of a brute making his way through an unpredictable, unforgiving world and steamrollingthrough everything in his path. He’s a barbarian,. for God’s sake. This Conan is more like a school-crossing guard who gives you the evil eye and rattles his sword when you disobey the “Don’t Walk” sign.Where’s the ferocity?
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan.
Director: Marcus Nispel.
Screenwriters: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood.
Producers: John Baldecchi, Boaz Davison, Randall Emmett.
A Lionsgate release. Running time: 112 minutes. Vulgar language, bloody violence, gore, adult themes. Opens Friday August 19 at area theaters