Theatrical Review: Conan The Barbarian

I think that director Marcus Nispel has waited his whole life to make this movie.

He’s best known for earlier helming the Michael Bay-produced remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th. He got his “warm-up” of sorts with Pathfinder in 2007.  I’ve seen the remake of Chainsaw and thought it was technically well-done at least.  I haven’t seen the Friday The 13th remake as of yet, but have seen Pathfinder and had fun with that.  The sheer look of that movie gave me a lot of hope for what Nispel would do with Conan The Barbarian.

And I wasn’t disappointed at all.  Now keep in mind, this is pulpy, B-movie fare and it wallows in it.  I certainly applaud that, as I’m a big fan of pulpy B-moives.  As this starts, we’re told of the Acheron, a group that ruled the land in pure tyranny thanks to the power that they gained through a mystical bone mask.  The Acheron were overthrown by barbarian tribes who late broke apart the mask and hid the parts so that it could never be used again.  Khalar Zym, a tyrant in the making, seeks to put the mask back together again to both rule the land and bring his long dead wife back to life.  Zym has located the last piece of the mask in Cimmeria, with Corin, the leader of the Cimmerians standing in his way. Needless to say, Zym gets his final piece of the mask, but in order to get it’s power active, he needs one last component, the pure blood of someone descended from the Acheron.  Now, the only thing that stands in Zym’s way, is the young Conan, the son of Corin, who seeks his revenge.

Now, I openly admit, I’m not the most knowledgeable person around when it comes to Conan lore.  I’ve only read some of the Marvel comics of the past and have seen the two prior movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I don’t know how true this is to the works of Robert E. Howard, but it certainly puts me in the frame of mind of the early comics by writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith. What really carries the day for me is Nispel’s strong visual sense, some really intense set pieces and a strong cast that is just eating up this chance to have some strong pulp fun.

Nispel’s film looks incredible with lots of bright action scenes, terrific production design and some really well-done special effects.  One sequence in particular involving the four principle actors and a battle with some creatures made up entirely of the earth is absolutely spectacular and for me was virtually worth the price of admission.  There’s way more to this than just the one scene, though it is a standout.  Where this falters just a bit for me is in some of it’s pacing, it’s disjointed in a few areas.  For the most part though, this is a rollicking good time that very much embraces it’s R-rating.  It is extremely bloody and violent, not watered down in the slightest, and just further adds to sheer zeal in making this.

Jason Momoa, from HBO’s Game of Thrones plays Conan.  Now I’ve not seen Game of Thrones so this is my first real extended exposure to Momoa.  Visually, he reminds me of Barry Windsor-Smith’s version of Conan from the comics (whereas Scwarzenegger reminds me more of John Buscema’s version).  He certainly has the sheer physicality for the part and attacks this with some real zest.  but what really brings his performance to life is this little twinkle in in his eyes that he gets right before going into action.  There’s something there that actually brings real charisma to this and makes him fun to watch in every scene he’s in.

Stephen Lang plays Khalar Zym and Rose McGowan plays his daughter Marique, our villains of the piece.  From my perspective, they were just having a ball with their parts.  Lang has terrific delivery and his physical presence is nearly as impressive as Momoa’s.  Rose McGowan is just built for parts like this with her quirky intensity.  I have to admit, from the trailers, I just didn’t recognize her at first, and I think her unique look in this film just further adds to her performance.

Rachel Nichols fills out our leads, playing Tamara, the Acheron descendant.  Compared to the other three, her performance is the most sedate, but it doesn’t hurt the piece either and she does have some nice chemistry with Momoa.  Ron Perlman plays Conan’s father Corin, and though he’s only in the early parts of the film, his presence gives this whole thing credibility.  I also have to give note to Leo Howard who plays the young Conan, really standing out in these early scenes.

I chose to see this in 3D.  The first time I saw the trailer for the movie, I saw it in 3D and was very much impressed by it.  I thought the 3D was very well done, really standing out in the film’s action sequences, though not to the same extent as what I saw in Final Destination 5. Some scenes display a real immersive depth, one in particular involving Nichols walking out from a cave with her reflection being cast in a small pool of water just really struck me well.  Going into this, I thought it had been shot in 3D, but after seeing the film, I then discovered that this was tacked on.  Normally, I’m not a real fan of this, but obviously i enjoyed what I saw, so I certainly applaud the effort that went into this to really make it’s 3D stand out.  I don’t think it’s necessary to see this in 3D, but it did work for me.

I had a really fun time with Conan the Barbarian. I think Marcus Nispel has a real affinity for this stuff and he’s certainly not afraid to embrace it’s B-movie aspects.  Jason Momoa is a talent to watch and I certainly look forward to seeing what he gets to do next, but further, I hope he and Nispel get together to make another Conan film.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

21. August 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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