NOTE: You may be aware that I previously posted a review of this movie on my regular blog, but this it an updated version of the review. My views have changed. Also, I added an amusing anecdote.
I’ve been a huge fan of Conan (the Cimmerian barbarian, not the redheaded comedian and TV show host). I own both the movies, have seen both that I could write this article on OverthinkingIt.com with little research. The first comic I owned as a kid (now lost to the sands of time) was an issue of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian my mom bought me. The day I found a massive Dark Horse reprinting of several issues of Savage Sword of Conan on clearance for $10 was one of the highlights of 2009 for me. I often whistle the Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom when walking or working (funny story: While whistling that tune a few weeks back, a bird repeated part of it back to me, specifically, the part starting at 3:40. That’s right, folks, I am a friend to all living things. I just hope that poor bird doesn’t want to be more than friends…) I often quote the books and movies. I wrote this piece that ended up getting reposted with permission on the Ultimate Conan Fan Blog. I even watched the animated Conan the Adventurer, for Crom’s sake! So, of course, I was looking forward to this new movie ever since I learned of it a year ago. On top of all of this, I learned some very personal and heartbreaking news regarding a very dear friend of mine late Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours before seeing this movie I’d built up for so long. If this movie was bad, I figured, this would end up being the worst weekend ever. So, what do I think of the movie?
For starters, this isn’t a remake of the 1982 Conan the Barbarian…not really. There are some plot similarities. Conan takes on a mighty empire headed by a serpent man priest who wiped out his village vs. Conan takes on a mighty empire headed by a guy that wants to be a god and wiped out his village. Conan is tasked with saving King Osric’s virgin daughter vs. Conan is tasked with saving Tamara, a virgin and the last daughter of Acheron. But aside from those similarities, it’s a different movie with almost all different characters. It’s much more faithful to Robert E. Howard’s character, and the types of adventures he got himself into, save for the slaughtered village origin, which is in line with the old movies but not Howard stories.
As far as casting goes, well, I may be lynched for this, but Jason Momoa is a much better Conan than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Momoa’s Conan was competent, bright, cunning, as well as a skilled warrior. He is equal parts fearsome and honourable. In short, he’s just as Howard wrote him. Arnold’s Conan brought Arnold’s dumb charm with him, but Momoa’s Conan’s charm lies in his savagery. I hope Momoa becomes a megastar because of this movie (though I doubt it due to the low Rotten Tomatoes score). The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Ron Perlman as Corin, Conan’s father, is great, though his acting is at times Narmy. Rose McGowan is creepily sexy and quite the scene stealer as Marique. While Stephen Lang, who plays Marique’s father Khalar Zym, is competent enough, he’s no James Earl Jones. Saïd Taghmaou’s Ela-Shan is all but useless as a character, which is a shame since I found the character interesting. Nonso Anozie is great but underused as Artus. Rachel Nicols is bland and pathetic as Tamara, and the guy who lost his nose to Conan just wasn’t engaging. All in all, the cast was good enough, though aside from McGowan and Momoa, none were what I’d call stellar.
As for the rest…well, the story was kind of by-the-books. A quest for revenge, defending the nearly helpless damsel meant to be a sacrifice, stopping an evil king from obtaining ultimate power…yawn. While I liked the nods to the Howard stories, like Conan’s pirate crew, I didn’t find the script to be exceptional. The effects were great, though one scene was jarring to me: after Marique’s death, the lighting shifted from blue filtered to green, though that might be due to the 3D conversion. I saw it in 2D, so perhaps if I saw it 3D, that might not be an issue. It was well scored except for during Conan and Tamara’s love scene, though this was nothing compared to Basil Poledouris legendary score for the first film. The violence and action was almost non-stop, however, and well-done, yet not gratuitous, so it was easy to ignore most of the film’s flaws. Even the somewhat offensive scene where young Conan killed a few guys who look suspiciously like warriors from my tribe, wasn’t too bad, partly because the rest of the casting and race relations of the movie resembled the world I described in my OTI post.
The preceding paragraphs were written the day after the movie came out, before I read this. Now, most of the complaints he made were simply “it’s not like Robert E Howard’s stories” which is a petty complaint, at best. Adaptations should always be able to stand on their own. Likewise, he’s totally wrong about Conan himself not being true to Howard. The “sexism” he cited is easily explained by the circumstances, and Conan has been known to lie in Howard’s stories, so lying here isn’t out of character at all. However, a few of the arguments made did negatively affect my opinion of the film. Khalar Zym did not need the mask or the blood because he essentially ruled most of the land anyway. I actually don’t know why I forgot to mention that Ela-Shan actually used keys to “pick” the locks yet was a legendary thief, and I really should have commented on the love shack.
However, one other factor was unknown to me prior to seeing the film, which kept this review from dipping below 7/10. Specifically, I found out that the film had an $80 million budget, rather than the $150 that I thought it had.There’s something admirable about being able to make a mostly enjoyable movie on such a small budget.
So, all in all, I give this film a slightly less strong endorsement, but I still give it 7 pureblood virgin monks out of 10. It may not be what is best in life, but it is still an enjoyable, good movie to end the summer with.