Conan the Barbarian

a film by Marcus Nispel

Just when you thought it was safe to wander back into the barbaric days of Robert E. Howard's iconic, loin-cloth garbed warrior and his Hyborean brethren of dangerous curs, unscrupulous thieves, half-naked buxom wenches, mad wouldbe godheads and evil sorceresses - think again. Making the Arnold Schwarzenegger-driven films of the eighties seem like the Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons of the genre, this newly minted, overly bombastic, CGI-laden mugfest of a movie, featuring the cold, (and appropriately so) dead expression of muscled Jason Mamoa (supposedly very good on HBO's Game of Thrones, a series which I have not seen but have heard nothing but good things about) in the title role, is certainly a mess of a movie, but does have its moments of giddy, gluttonous glory. Unfortunately these moments are, as they are prone to say, too few and far between to be of any real help.

Now actually the first of the aforementioned Schwarzenegger films, 1982's Conan the Barbarian, written by John Milius and Ollie Stone and directed by Milius, is a good adventure romp that blends some of the original stories of Howard's with a sort of proto-Nietzschean screenplay (and let's face it, Arnie was always fun to watch as an action-oriented actor, even in his many many many bad films) and never really gets the so-called props it probably deserves. The second film, Conan the Destroyer is mere cheap sequel theatrics and should probably be well-forgotten. This remake/sequel/prequel (whatever it is) is just more of the same middle-of-the-road action movie mayhem that is so typical and so rampant in today's remake-hungry Hollywood. Replacing guts and gusto (and a certain kind of narrative bravura that Milius and Stone fed on in the first one) today's action films seem to be laced with a deadened rote of CGI and haphazard slo-mo cinematography that make them all blend in together. This new Conan is no different - which is in and of itself the real problem.

The character of Conan, replete with legend and lore ever since Howard's creation of the barbarian in 1932, was helped along by Marvel Comics long-running series in the 1970's, written by the equally iconic (at least to comic book nerds such as myself) Roy Thomas, a long-time writer of both The Avengers and The X-Men and the man who stepped into the editor-in-chief position when Stan Lee moved on to publisher, and was given a more mainstream boost by Arnold's movie version in the 1980's, as well as a reboost in 2003 when Dark Horse Comics got the rights to the character. This new version, sadly enough, does nothing but back-peddle this iconic status. Yes, the opening, with a young Conan and his big burly father, played with gruff ease by that barbarian among actors, Ron Perlman, is quite enjoyable - and the final battle is a glorious kind of action set piece, but everything inbetween is nothing more or less than we get in every other typical action picture out today. [08/27/11]