Posted June 2, 2011 by David Watson in C
 
 

Conan The Barbarian


FJ Cinema Editor David Watson and Sci-Fi Editor Chris Patmore face off on Conan The Barbarian.

FilmJuice takes pride in the fact that we let our film critics express their true opinions about the movies that they review. FilmJuice Cinema Editor David Watson and Sci-Fi Editor Chris Patmore face off on Conan The Barbarian. Needless to say, they did not see quite eye-to-eye. It’s For v’s Against.

FOR

Review By Sci-Fi Editor Chris Patmore

In the realm of swords and sorcery, Conan the Barbarian has to be
one of the most iconic and enduring characters, who even pre-dates The Lord of the Rings. Originally
appearing in pulp fiction short stories, Conan is another pioneer of
multimedia, or transmedia as it is now called, appearing in literature, comic
books, the artwork of Frank Frazetta,
games and the 1982 John Milius movie
that fully launched Arnold
Schwarzenegger
onto the world.

This latest movie version will inevitably draw comparisons with the
Arnie film, however it is not a remake but a new interpretation based on Robert E. Howard’s stories. As is the
trend with most cinema re-launches these days, this is an origins movie that
literally goes back to Conan’s birth on the battlefield through his childhood
(played with fierce tenacity by Leo
Howard
) being brought up by his father (Ron Perlman) until the arrival Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang in another great character piece) and his witchy
daughter Marique (an almost unrecognisable Rose
McGowan
, stripped of her Charms), in search of the final piece of the
legendary Mask of Acheron, which will give him ultimate power over men.

Jumping forward several years and the fully-grown Conan (Jason Momoa from Stargate Atlantis and
Game of Thrones) is wandering the lands searching for Zym while helping the
downtrodden victims of despots, and taking advantage of their women. Meanwhile
Zym is hunting for a “pureblood” ancestor of the original creators of the Mask,
whose blood will activate the Mask’s powers. Enter Priestess Tamara (Rachel Nichols) and the beginning of a
tempestuous relationship with Conan as they try to prevent Zym fulfilling his
nefarious ambitions.

Momoa makes a great Conan, and this is not much of a deviation from
his role in Game of Thrones. He has the right physicality, but with just the
right amount of humanity to make him likable, in spite of or because of his
totally non-PC behaviour, especially in the way he speaks to Tamara – after
all, he is a barbarian not a modern day metrosexual. To be fair she did deserve
it; most of the time she was all independence and self-assurance, but as soon
as she was captured and in peril she spent a lot of time screaming like a teen
horror victim, which was rather incongruous with how the character was originally
presented. And speaking of non-PC,
there was something decidedly creepy about the relationship between Zym and his
daughter Marique that had nothing to do with their quest for power.

This is a good old-fashioned fantasy-action movie where men are men,
and women are decoration, which may not appeal to some modern sensibilities,
but the film is called Conan the Barbarian, not Conan the Humanitarian. If you
are happy to accept the film’s premise it is good fun. Because of Momoa’s
presence, it is much easier to draw parallels with Game of Thrones than with
the original Conan movie(s), especially in terms of action and production
values, what it doesn’t have is the same level of character development or
story arc, but this is more to do with Conan being a nearly two-hour movie and
other being a ten-hour TV series than the scope of the actual stories and their
worlds. Conan’s world has become ever more expansive over its 80 years of
source material.

With a dubious rom-com, a bunch of art house films and yet another
Final Destination film on offer, this has to be the multiplex choice of the
week – and do it see it 2D as there isn’t a lot of added spectacle to be gained
from seeing it with glasses on.

AND AGAINST…

Review By FilmJuice Cinema Editor David Watson

Verily, the God
of Bad Cinema doth hate us so.
During a summer of mediocrity he opened up the seventh seal and sent us
plagues of lycra-clad pussies (Captain
America, Green Lantern, Thor, X-Men: The Wonder Years
), Shia the Beef
shilling for the indestructible robot toy franchise, more crappy 3D (Priest, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, all the
superhero movies, Cars 2
) poking its way out of a screen near you than a
William Castle retrospective and then there were The Smurfs, Sweet Baby Jesus the horror of The Smurfs, possibly the most cynical, culturally and
intellectually bankrupt 103 minutes you’ve ever spent in a cinema.

But lo, the Lord
of Cinematic Excrement was merely toying with us, for now he has unleashed the
greatest weapon in his arsenal, a film so devoid of any cultural or artistic
merit you will weep for the future, preferring nuclear holocaust just so the
sightless, pus-filled eyes of the deformed, mewling, mutant babies brought up
in the radioactive ruins of our shattered civilisation will never have to look
upon the horror, the horror that makes you realise that the sooner an asteroid hits
this planet and wipes humanity from its face the better, at last giving some
other species its turn at dominance.
That horror is Conan The
Barbarian
.

The cinematic
equivalent of eating lead paint chips during a back alley handjob from a crack
whore, Conan The Barbarian is a film that you will actually feel lower your IQ while
it leaves you feeling empty, dissatisfied, used, soiled, guilty about the
precious moments of life you spent watching this garbage and poorer,
financially and intellectually, as it reaches into your pocket and relieves you
of your hard-earned. Yet another
Hollywood reboot, and, let’s make no mistake here, by reboot I mean ill-judged,
thought-free attempt to kick some new life into a dead franchise as cheaply as
possibly, future generations will one day look back upon Conan The Barbarian and recognise it as the tipping point, the moment when our
culture started to gain momentum as it rolls downhill towards the waiting
idiocracy.

Scrawled in
crayon by the idiots who brought us such cultural high-water marks as Sahara (Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer) and one of The Crow sequels (Sean Hood), the
plot of Conan is simple. After a
ludicrous Morgan Freeman-voiced
info-dump (all sepia maps and random carnage) which basically tells us “This
all happened before Atlantis sank, you know, A LONG, LONG TIME AGO,” we are
dumped into the middle of a barbarian battlefield where baby Conan is delivered
in a DIY-Caesarean by his father (Hellboy). Conan grows up to be a sulky adolescent (Leo Howard) and just as he and Hellboy
are getting to spend some quality time smelting swords (well, it is supposed to
be some kind of Iron Age) and cuffing each other manfully, evil warlord Khalar
Zym (the shouty scenery-chewing bad guy from Avatar) rides into Conan’s village
looking for the missing piece of a magic mask that will give him the power of a
god or something. After torturing
Hellboy, killing everyone in town and setting fire to the village, Zym rides
off to conquer the world and generally hang around waiting for Conan to grow
up, become that model guy that used to be in one of the crap Stargate spin-offs
and come looking for revenge.

Cue Morgan
phoning in another info-dump, some freeing of slaves, some saving of topless
wenches (WTF? He’s supposed to be
a barbarian. Surely he should be
enslaving those topless wenches?) and some more manly cuffing before the now
adult Conan (Jason Momoa) suddenly
remembers he’s meant to kill that guy who killed Hellboy and sets of on a quest
for revenge, saving (and deflowering) sacred pure-blood virgin priestess Tamara
(Rachel Nichols) from Zym and his
creepy, sexy, incestuous, witch-daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, who else?) along the way. Cue some really boring hack-and-slash swordplay and some
disappointing monsters against a series of CGI backdrops.

Directed by Marcus Nispel (the hack who also gave
us lacklustre reboots of The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre
and Friday the 13th),
Conan isn’t a film; it’s a video
game in waiting. Conan fight
baddies. Conan win. Conan fight boss. Conan win. Conan level-up.
Conan fight more baddies, Conan sneak, Conan fight next boss, level-up. There’s no scene that can’t be ended
with either some manly cuffing or holding a sword/baby/severed head aloft and
howling at the camera as it cranes above you. And why is it in fantasy films like this that the characters
that attain godlike powers never actually bother using them, preferring instead
to go toe-to-toe with some muscle-bound oaf with a sword? Brutal and crude, this Conan lacks
the wit, intelligence and sense of fun of the 1982 Arnie movie. Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Hollywood maverick John Milius, the original Conan The Barbarian was an adult fantasy, steeped in cod-Nietzschean philosophy, it
was an ambitious attempt at myth-making which at least credited its audience
with more intelligence than its protagonist who’s, well, an oaf with a
sword. It’s doubtful that the team
behind the reboot could even spell Nietzche. Which is worrying when the director’s German.

According to
popular myth, at the premiere of the Victor Mature-starring Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille asked his friend Groucho Marx
what he thought of the film. “Well, there’s just one problem, C.B.”
said Groucho. “No picture can hold
my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading
lady’s.” As an actor, that pretty
much sums up Jason Momoa; fantastic bosoms. The best in the film in fact. No small achievement in a film that seems to feature every
beautiful woman in Bulgaria with her puppies out (seriously, check out the end
credits, you’ve never seen so many women billed as ‘Topless Wench’). A model-turned-actor who’s own hair
once gave him whiplash (google it), Momoa spends much of the film with a
constipated frown on his face and looks more like he’s on a quest for a mirror
than revenge. Better at butchering
dialogue than bad guys, he alternates growling his lines with GROWLING his
lines and has none of the charisma of the Governator. He doesn’t even have the charisma of Kevin Sorbo. And just how can you take seriously as
Conan a guy whose own hair is capable of incapacitating him?

As Zym, Stephen Lang just
chews the scenery much as he did in Avatar while Rachel Nichols manages to
be both simpering and prissy as the damsel-in-distress. You’d be hard pushed to describe the
1982 Conan as a feminist film but at least Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria had a job. She was a barbarian warrior and thief
in her own right who even takes a bullet (ok, a magic snake arrow) for Conan.

Perhaps the only thing worth seeing Conan for is Rose McGowan. Always the best thing about whatever
she’s in, Rose doesn’t disappoint, vamping it up in white pancake make-up, cute
facial tattoos and blood-red lips, clicking her Freddy Krueger-style talons and
cuddling up to daddy in a silk-draped bed, an image reminiscent of Serge &
Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Lemon Incest video. Creating an instant Goth pin-up girl as the evil witch
Marique, McGowan injects some much needed camp and humour into a film that
despite being wall-to-wall boobs and blood, succeeds in being stupefyingly
boring.

Completely lacking tension, wit, entertainment or any form of artistic,
intellectual or cultural merit, Conan The
Barbarian
is profoundly depressing, a moronic, cynical triumph of corporate
film-making. It’s all downhill
from here folks.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com