Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan
The last hurrah of the Lord of the Rings ‘character stack’ poster.

“Enter an Age Undreamed Of”

Directed by Marcus Nispel
Starring Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. Onto this came Conan, the Cimmerian, and did some stuff.

After a prologue in which barbarians bring down the black magic civilisation of Acheron and split up the evil mask of evil to hide it, we cut to Conan being born by battlefield caesarian.

He grows up a reckless, savage warrior, then Khalar Zym shows up and slaughters his village looking for the last piece of the Mask. After decades seeking revenge, Conan runs onto Zym’s trail just as he finds traces of the last pure-blooded Acheronian whose blood can activate the mask. TIMING!

Cue mayhem and stuff.

What’s wrong with it?

The film is basically a series of fights connected by random chance. I guess that’s at least true to the spirit of the books, which is not something you can say for a lot of other things.

Young Conan is basically a full on Robert E Howard Cimmerian, whereas his father (and life) are determined to make a measured fighter of him in a pastoral village which is way too pretty to be in Cimmeria. Tamara is also way too modern-looking, and the bad guys are just too uniform in their appearance, especially when they’re being bandits.

By the by, this is the stuff I picked up on. If you want to see what a hardcore Howard nerd makes of it, you can read a comprehensive critique at the largely dormant Conan the Barbarian Movie Blog.

The battlefield caesarian is just kind of nasty and doesn’t add a lot. It only allows the film to focus on the relationship with his father, culminating in a scene which lifts everything but a harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West.

There’s a creepy semi-incest thing going on with Zym and his daughter Marique which is… Yeah. Creepy. And speaking of Marique, the film seems a little iffy on whether she is blindly obedient to her father or has her own ambition, which diminishes the threat when she’s fighting Tamara (whom daddy dear wants alive.)

Speaking of creepy, after Conan and his buddy Artus rescue some obvious sex slaves they are way too pervy when offering them a lift home.

Much of the movie is perfectly interchangeable with the 1982 version, but the score is no match for Basil Poledouris.

What’s right with it?

Jason Momoa is a pretty good Conan, snarly, shouty and visceral, and both muscular and agile (Arnold really only managed one of the two.)

Tamara is proper feisty. When she tried to help Conan in a fight she does help, she shanks a guard while heavily outnumbers, and even in the designated girl fight, she is throwing proper punches.

How bad is it really?

The 2011 Conan is basically… unexceptional. It’s not even blah, there are some good action sequences and one of the better action girls of recent years.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The film has one of the better designated girl fights I’ve seen, with Marique and Tamara seriously going at it, fist and shiv. No ‘girly slapping’ for this film.

What’s up with…?

  • Zym’s goofy multi-bladed sword? It’s like something out of The Sword and the Sorcerer.
  • The whiny thief? Conan rescues him early on, and then he pops up for one scene in which he bitches like Wilt Chamberlain in Conan the Destroyer.

Ratings

Production values – The film is pretty gorgeous, although it is variably successful at representing the Hyborian Age and its division between shitty-but-virile barbarian territories and cultured-yet-corrupt civilised kingdoms. Shame about the score. 8
Dialogue and performances – Jason Momoa is a pretty solid Conan and the supporting cast have the right level of melodrama. Rachel Nichols is the weakest note, not because she’s bad, just a touch too modern. 5
Plot and execution – The plot is literally just an excuse for linking up the fights, which is sign-posted by the front-loading (although it is narrated by Morgan Freeman.) 16
Randomness – There are some characters (the thief, the female archer lieutenant who barely gets any screen time) who barely seem to be there except to be there. 9
Waste of potential – It’s as good a Conan movie as they’ve yet made, although there’s probably a better one to be made someday. 7

Overall 45%

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