There’s no two ways about it, the new Conan The Barbarian isn’t going to be for everyone.
But for those of us who grew up in the eighties, on a diet of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan and the slew of bloodthirsty sword and sorcery movies that followed in the wake of its box office success, then this new take on the character will prove to be a somewhat nostalgic treat.
Just as last year saw the re-emergence of such throwback, mega violent spectacles as The Expendables and Ninja Assassin, Conan The Barbarian follows suit, swinging its sword proudly above its head, while keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek. I appreciate I might not be in the majority on this one, but I really, really enjoyed it.
The film starts just as any self-respecting sword and sorcery movie should, with a voice over and text to get us up to speed on current affairs in Cimmeria. The voice over in this case sounds suspiciously like it comes from Morgan Freeman, something I haven’t been able to verify in a time when sound-alikes for the man seem to be rife.
Making no bones about the films’ visceral intentions, we soon cut to a baby Conan womb-cam and his mother on the battlefield, while his father (played by Ron Perlman) slices people apart, making his way to his wife, before delivering his own son via dagger caesarean. Naturally, he holds the new-born Conan up to the heavens and screams.
If ever an opening scene embodied a film as a whole, then this is it: loud, bombastic, brutal and insanely over the top. I was instantly on the film’s side and it didn’t let me down. Nor did it change pace much at all. I think it’s fair to say that Conan The Barbarian is an unrelentingly action-packed movie, even managing to outstrip the mania of my beloved Crank, as barely a few minutes pass without some form of fight or chase breaking out.
Now there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to constant action, as it can become quite wearing and repetitive. But personally, I couldn’t quite get enough of Conan’s unrepentant onslaught. Perhaps it was elation at finally having an old school sword and sorcery movie back on the big screen, especially one that has the guts to show so much carnage at a time when PG-13 ratings are all the rage.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Conan’s onscreen encounters are mostly reliant on stunt work and real sword fights, giving a sense of tangible brutality and edge to proceedings, which are plentiful and very violent. CGI only plays a part in a couple of scenes.
Schwarzenegger’s Conan The Barbarian was the first film I saw starring the Austrian Oak many years ago, but it actually had an adverse effect on my feelings towards him as an actor at the time, finding the monosyllabic utterings a bit too cold and detached. Especially when you consider that I was used to wise cracking icons, such as Indiana Jones and Han Solo.
Jason Momoa’s Conan falls somewhere in between, as he’s unafraid to speak, but hardly breaks into long monologues either.
Momoa actually filmed Conan before (now wildly successful) Game Of Thrones. And he exudes more charisma in his big screen leading role than most of the muscle bound heroes in previous decades, carrying the film with ease, even if Conan himself is restricted by his own motto “I live, I love, I slay and am content.”
Still, the lack of political correctness in Conan’s outlook on life and love is, depending on your point of view, part of its appeal, and for the most part is played in a comedic fashion, free from the malice which permeates so much modern horror, having most of the audience I saw it with laughing along.
Two members of the G.I. Joe team also play supporting roles, Said Taghmaoui and Rachel Nichols. Unfortunately, despite Taghmaoui’s performance as Breaker in G.I. Joe being one of the few things I liked in that movie, he’s not really used here as anything more than a plot device, playing a cowardly thief, who pops up a couple of times with nothing more to offer than an ability to pick a lock.
Nichols fares better, making a valiant attempt to give her character, Tamara, a little more spirit and fight, even if she does end up exercising her lungs more.
Brushing up against Conan is Zym, played by Stephen Lang, who people will last have seen playing a bad man in Avatar, but who should really be better known for his terrifyingly unhinged performance as the Party Crasher, in the often over looked gem that is The Hard Way (if you haven’t seen it, track it down, it’s ace). In Conan, Lang delivers lines so vehemently that he physically spits some of them out.
And he’s not alone, there’s a whole lot of shouting, screaming and frothing in Conan. One character even dribbles. Meanwhile, Rose McGowan, as Lang’s demented witch of a daughter, Marique, takes the scenery chewing route, licking blood from her Freddy Krueger-esque finger blades, seemingly having the time of her life portraying a monstrous lunatic, which all adds to the films’ unashamed craziness.
And crazy is what Conan The Barbarian is, from start to finish. I have no doubt that much will be made of the film’s lack of plot, which really very simple indeed. But it seems a little redundant in this case. Some films shouldn’t be outright criticised, surely, for just being a tremendously entertaining spectacle. After last years’ dull and lifeless remake of Clash Of The Titans, I was prepared for Conan The Barbarian to follow suit, but it does the opposite. I should also point out that my screening was in 2D, so every effect and fight was crystal clear and seemed impactful enough without any extra dimension.
I appreciate that its lunacy will be lost on some people and you can almost certainly remove a star if the contemporary movies I’ve mentioned above haven’t appealed in any way, just as you might if you’ve never heard of The Beastmaster. I’m sure, though, that the new Conan’s antics will appeal to a blood thirsty younger generation, who’ve been denied this kind of film at the cinema for far too long.
Conan The Barbarian is perhaps the greatest sword and sorcery movie never made in the eighties, full of non-stop violence, naked flesh, slow motion explosions and a thumping orchestral score (fear not, the music used in the trailer is nowhere to be heard). I came out of the screening utterly elated, grinning from ear to ear, with my critical faculties firmly beaten out of me, replaced instead by a need to eat red meat and drink mead.