Movie #24: Conan the Barbarian

In light of all the “reboot” controversies over the last couple of years, it’s interesting that no one seems to care about Conan the Barbarian coming back to theatres. This time, the title character is played by Jason Momoa. It’s kind of odd casting, since he was quite memorable in a very similar role as horse-lord Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones. I was surprised to find that Conan is  a tiny bit more capricious and whimsical than the Dothraki warrior. Momoa actually gets to flash his playful grin a few times. I think the reason why no one cares about the Conan reboot is that these movies never really amount to much more than Saturday matinee fare. The plots are ridiculously shallow, full of sword-and-sorcery stereotypes. Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones have set a high bar for modern epic fantasy, but sadly not many producers are interested in taking that challenge. In this movie, Conan is a Robin-Hood-style raider, helping to free slaves while seeking out the identity of the man who destroyed his village and murdered his father when he was a young man. This villain, named Khalar Zym (and played by Avatar and Terra Nova‘s Stephen Lang) is trying to put together an ancient mask which will give him the power to rule all (and also bring his wife back from the dead). Aiding Zym is his daughter Marique (played by a creepy Rose McGowan who clearly picked up some style tips from her ex, Marilyn Manson), a sorceress who is hunting down a “pure blood” female to use in the ritual to activate the mask. All this backstory is fine and good, but mostly meaningless since the details don’t really matter. The plot is pretty rudimentary: villains kill their way to their objective, and our hero Conan tries to stop them while protecting (and of course, falling for) the pure-blood girl, Tamara (played by Rachel Nichols). Another reason why the details don’t matter is because most of the time it’s very hard to follow them. If it’s not the over-loud score, it’s the cacophony of crashing, clashing, yelling, or screaming that drown out most of what’s being said. Nevertheless, I like that there is a little magic in this movie. In fact, there’s a pretty cool scene where Marique summons some warriors made of sand to take out Conan. Otherwise the fight scenes are too often full of jump-cuts and close-ups that make them difficult to take in. Add to that a very dim and muted colour palette for most of the film, and you can see how it would be pretty hard to enjoy the visuals (despite some impressive scenery — whether they’re real or matte paintings). Since I love the genre, I really wish that someone would take the fantasy-adventure film and make it a bit more intelligent, better acted, and enjoyable. Alas, I may need to hold my breath until the next reboot of Conan (2.5 out of 5)

24 down, 26 to go!

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