Written and directed by John Milius in 1982, the original Conan the Barbarian movie was a campy, but fun vehicle for a young, muscle-bound actor named Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a jumping off point for the actor who would quickly become one of the top action stars in Hollywood. Now, as part of Hollywood's seemingly unstoppable raid on the movies of the 1980s, Conan is being remade starring another physically impressive young actor. Already a known face to fans of HBO's Game of Thrones series, can turn Jason Momoa into a Schwarzenegger-like star?
Adding some class to the proceedings, the movie is narrated by Morgan Freeman who tells us of a magical mask that grants its wearer ultimate power. After being shattered in a great battle, the pieces of the mask were spread out across the continent in hopes that that great power will never fall into one man's hands again. Of course, ten minutes into the movie a bandit and his witch daughter have arrived at a Cimmerian village seeking the last piece of the puzzle. Determined to protect the mask shard until the very end, the great Corin is killed in front of his young son Conan.
Conan spends the next decade or so scouring the earth and sailing the seas with pirates on a quest to find the evil Khalar Zym and avenge his father’s death. Although it has been years since he assembled the mask, Khalar Zym is still searching for the young woman of pure blood as only after the mask is filled with her blood will its dark powers be awoken. After rescuing the woman from the clutches of Zym's minions, Conan decides to use her as bait to lure in his enemy. Although a master warrior, Conan will soon find that his strengths may be no match for the magical powers of Zym's witch daughter Marique.
Don't Go for the Dialogue
Momoa does have a better handle on the dialogue than Schwarzenegger did in 1982, but I doubt there are many moviegoers walking into Conan the Barbarian anticipating the dialogue. This is a swords-and-sandals action movie that delivers exactly what you'd expect from it. On that level, it works as a movie that will keep folks entertained for a good hour and a half and then vanish from their thoughts as soon as they exit the theater.
It is certainly more polished than the original and features some improved special effects, but aside from those standard improvements there is very little to separate the remake from the original. The special effects are solid in a sequence in which Conan must battle an army magically created out of the sand surrounding him, but they are overpowered by some overzealous editing in a later sequence involving some kind of octopus-like creature. This scene was so rapidly edited that not only was it difficult to follow what exactly was happening, but it also made me a little nauseous.
3D Just a Distraction
It only makes matters worse that this scene, along with the rest of the movie, is in 3D for no apparent reason. Aside from a rather cool looking opening credit sequence, the movie fails to make any use of the technology and it just serves as a distraction.
The battle sequences are also flawed by excessive editing, as well as the fact that it is nearly impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys while they are in the heat of a battle.
It's a Macguffin
The movie also disappointed by not making good on its promise, making the magical mask at its center nothing more than what Alfred Hitchcock would call a "macguffin." We never really get to see what power the mask has and therefore it is left to be just an ugly piece of headwear in the movie's final act.
Although it entertains, it is hard to recommend a movie that does nothing more than its predecessor, which you can probably pick up on DVD for cheaper than it will cost you to see the new one in theaters. Besides, even though it would be easy to argue that Jason Momoa gives a better performance, there is something to be said for the camp factor of watching—and hearing—1982 era Schwarzenegger fight his way through the original.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity. As you'd expect and, honestly, hope for in this kind of movie, there is plenty of blood splattering all over the place.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of CONAN THE BARBARIAN.