Fresh from appearing in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, Jason Momoa attempts to take on Robert E. Howard’s best-known character, Conan, under the guidance of Marcus Nispel, master of the unnecessary remake (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th).
The end result is… all right, actually. The film starts off with the birth of Conan, which involves quite a bit of blood, but not in the way you’d expect. From there we jump to his childhood under the tutelage of his father, Corin (Ron Perlman). It isn’t long before said father and, indeed, his whole village is slaughtered and then we get to zip forward once more, by which time Conan’s become the muscular Mamoa, who’s clearly allergic to cotton because he never wears a shirt.
The movie’s narrative runs something like this: marauders? KILL THEM! Pillagers? KILL THEM! Slavers? KILL THEM! The film has a certain rhythm to it, even if it’s more of a heel-toe-heel-toe than a samba. Its makers clearly knew what they set out to show us, and it’s little more than lots of blood and some boobs.
That being said, this take on Conan is admirably straight-faced, never becoming self-conscious or parodic – a rarity these days. Momoa isn’t as menacing as he was in ‘Game of Thrones’, but he certainly has more charisma than Arnie did back in 1982. He also handles the action scenes exceptionally. In fact, all of the action is great. There’s a real visceral punch to the violence (which is at times quite shocking), and it’s good to see that, aside from a couple of supernatural foes, it’s all done with real people and not CGI.
There’s nothing surprising about the plot of Conan, but it’s easy enough to simply switch your mind off and count down the minutes before the next action scene pops up. The main flaw with the film would have to be the climax, which is rather dull. I kept waiting for something epic, but it never happened.
Rose McGowan looks wonderful as Marique, daughter of über-baddie Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), though I got the distinct impression that a not so subtle incestuous sub-plot got deep-sixed at some stage during production. As it stands, McGowan is adequate in the role, but could have been more memorable.
With some lavish production values – the practical sets are impressive, as are the digital matte paintings – and a dedication not to overly rely on CGI (at least until the shoddy climax), Conan the Barbarian is an admirable time-waster. It doesn’t impress to any great extent, but it doesn’t disappoint either, and Jason Momoa is a great fresh-faced alpha male (perhaps Stallone should keep him in mind if there’s ever an Expendables 3).Rating: