Where to begin? Some time, long ago before pretty much everything except the dinosaurs, there lived a warrior, born in the heat of battle, a boy, named Conan by his dying mother. In the mystical action genre, Conan gains company in a realm full of predecessors like ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ or ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ unfortunately the barbarian isn’t able to live up to those standards, but does remain above those of flops like ‘Dragonball Evolution (2009).’
Boasting a production budget around $90 million, ‘Conan’ was aiming for blockbuster success, but a lack of solid marketing and some really poor CGI contributed to a lackluster opening of $10 million, which is hardly a blockbuster (or even solid) start. As noted, the CGI was a bit much – pretty much everything, from the blood to the elephants (really? Elephants in CGI? They couldn’t hire some real ones?) was produced in a way that dated the film tremendously. In 2011, audiences shouldn’t be watching something that looks produced in 1993 (although there were massive achievments in CGI in 1993 – looks at ‘Jurassic Park’) – too bad the filmmakers couldn’t take some notes and modernize the graphics in a way that didn’t make the film look dated or cheap.
To add to the wrongdoings of ‘the Barbarian,’ some of the acting and costuming was just plain bad. A woman is stabbed in the womb (you see this much from inside the womb) at the beginning – she wrenches in agony and screams, yet somehow, just somehow has the strength to climb onto a wagon, call to her husband and ask to see her baby before she dies (of course the husband obliges and cuts the child from her) – she miraculously lives long enough to name Conan. Was the blood dripping slowly from this gaping wound? How on earth does this woman manage to stay alive when other people are being cut across their bodies and dying instantly? And then a baby is taken from her body? …. Nevermind, that’s not the half of it – the facial expressions of the dying mother are dramatic enough to be seen clearly in a Broadway show, and she’s not the only one.
Perhaps the worst performance could go to Marique (Yoana Petrova, Rose McGowan), both young and old. The younger (Petrova) makes her entrance as a sorceress in training, who of course tries in the most obvious of fashions to flow across the screen while twitching and sniffing and everything else overly dramatic actors playing sorcerers do. And then Marique reappears as the older version of herself, portrayed by McGowan, and in similar fashion, is overly dramatic and flat. There is one tiny, tiny moment of hope for her character and it’s when she’s the most vulnerable, kneeling before her father Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang – who is equally as bad in ‘Conan’ as he was in ‘AVATAR’). She desires his affection,he’s unyielding, but this moment of denial has no affect on her and why would it, her character is a great way to summarize ‘Conan’ – it tries for so many different things that it fails at just about everything, there’s no emphasis anywhere, no capitalization. There are no character arcs and if there are any, they’re buried somewhere within the confines of the blazay acting.
The acting may not be entirely the actors’ fault though, it could have a fair bit to do with the director because it seems like Marcus Nispel (‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacare’, ‘Pathfinder’) just sat in his chair and said, “Okay, I know that line sucks and sounds like it’s been plucked from a Mortal Kombat video game, but that’s okay, we are just going to pull your hairline back, add some stars to your head, make you roar and give you some scars and we’ll be good to go.” Nispel, honestly, is likely the biggest problem ‘Conan’ has. Like his other mystical action endeavour ‘Pathfinder,’ ‘Conan’ lacks that special something that makes a movie memorable. At surface value, the potential is there, but much more than a hunky, strong-spoken male lead and soft, strong female lead is required to create movie magic, unfortunately, I don’t think Nispel received that memo because again audiences have delivered to them an overwrought piece of work that is supposed to rely on Conan’s (Jason Momoa) physique.
Having the new “fittest man in Hollywood” in your movie won’t guarantee your seats fill up, neither will spurting, copious amounts of ridiculous looking blood, a couple topless women or a brief sex scene – not even the Momoa butt-shot can help it. ‘Conan,’ unfortunately has the looks and the potential, it just doesn’t have any substance – no moments of sorrow or sadness (none that are believable and truly affecting anyway) – no moments of true joy – nothing. It’s just a callous movie that happened to be made with a couple pretty people. I’d almost bet Morgan Freeman is kicking himself for signing on as the “Narrator.”
‘Conan the Barbarian’ is rated R for strong bloody violence, sexuality and nudity and runs 113 minutes.