CONAN THE BARBARIAN Review
Born on the battlefield, Conan quickly develops innate warrior skills that his father teaches him to control. When his village is attacked, an evil tyrant claims a piece of a necrotic mask that will bring his dead wife back. Conan's father possessed this piece and is killed in the process. Years later Conan is a man, crossing continents to find the tyrant and avenge his fathers death, while the tyrant searches for a pure blood, the only descendant who can bring the mask to life.
There is no point to analyze or criticize this bare bones plot because there is nothing to add. Going into Conan with zero expectations and a need to escape certainly helped the nearly two hours running time, and for its many flaws, unoriginal plot, wooden acting and atrocious pacing, Conan succeeds on some level because it fulfills the quota of a manly man beating stuff to a pulp. This was directed by Marcus Nispel whose credentials include an epic beard and the barely related film the Pathfinder - Vikings, barbarians, same stuff right?
A Morgan Freeman sound-a-like offers afterthought narration of the world and its horrible history and it is quickly revealed that young Conan (Leo Howard) is indeed literally born from battle, no smart metaphorical or otherwise quips here. Flash forward somewhat and Conan is a young Cimmerian boy whose strength and agility to the point of parkour - something barbarians do not normally possess, is tested. Conan's first on-screen fight comes from some marauders who attack him and his kind during the brief trial. They get their faces smashed in and at this point it is clear that there is a sufficient amount of gore in Conan to add barbarian to the title.
Ron Perlman plays his father Corin, he also has an epic beard. In Conan there seems to be an awful lot of weird patriarch/sibling stuff going on. Conan and his father relate terribly and when he introduces him to the finer points of sword creation it sounds more like mentor advice than father and son bonding. Likewise with the big bad tyrant Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his daughter Marique - Rose McGowan at her most bizarrely off putting. There seems to be something incestuous happening there between them and that does not warrant further investigation!
After his father is lava'd to death suddenly he is older, muscly and defending the poor and downtrodden. His side kick is thankfully not the comic relief and after he helps him save some slaves they go and drink in a bar. Here they squeeze in some barbaric elements - disdain for women, no table manners etc, and his sidekick provides some exposition about how they met. There is no time to reflect however as agents of Zym conveniently appear, here there and everywhere, as Conan conflicts with them, and moves through the plot, following the trail to Zym.
The pacing really is incredibly bad, and feels more like a checklist that covered locations, people, fights, chases and monster duels. All of the scenes are driven by exposition, some set pieces are tame, others are quite stunning but it is too jarring and each scene simply strings onto the next. A lot of the elements have also been done before, in particular when Conan battles some sand people Marique conveniently creates this one time. It feels like Prince of Persia and a similar created magical enemy the protagonist fought with. There is certainly nothing to be inspired by, it is all by-the-book and probably true to the source material in terms of how pulpy it all is. There are, in fact, multiple movies contained within, but the pacing and editing is so bad and it feels like they were all rushed and meshed into one. This is certainly not high fantasy it is just place after place, fight after fight, not that the fights aren't great of course.
Jason Momoa is excellent as Conan, he kills stuff really well, demeans women and eats stuff really fast, there is not much more you can look for in a barbarian. Unfortunately, the pure blood Marique and Zym are after Tamara is played by Rachel Nichols and is the most grating and poorly acted character. In fact, she makes everyone else beam in comparison - delivering her lines poorly, stumbling over the fantasy names and having no accent at all. Zym and Marique snarl and growl a lot and everyone else who is not them or Conan provides helpful information to the audience about the plot.
Conan is not a good film, it misses that mark by a long shot. But for its pulp and gory action it can easily be recommended. If you are in the mood for a brainless guilty pleasure, look no further, and like all films of this ilk, the poor ending hints blatantly at a sequel.