We’re in the dog days of summer right now. The blockbuster-ish movies that studios were too embarrassed to give a big opening weekend to are coming out. The strange movies that execs probably greenlit on a dare are coming out as well. It’s that sad time between the big tentpole summer movies and the Oscar contenders when all those movies that serve as albatrosses are finally set loose upon the world. I wish that I could say that ‘Conan the Barbarian’ was an exception, but instead it is pretty much a prime example of what I’m talking about.
The movie opens with a narration by Morgan Freeman, lending it a gravitas that it has, in no way, earned. He gives the background of the story which involves an empire of sorcerers called Acheron, and the barbarians who fought against them. When the barbarians won, they took a mask that holds the key to their power and broke it up into several pieces, and all the tribes kept a piece. And now, a thousand years later, a warlord name Zym is putting the pieces back together to claim their power. In Cimmeria, one of the barbarian tribes, Conan is born just after his pregnant mother is stabbed in the womb. Raised as a warrior by his father, his village is eventually sacked by Zym. His father is killed, Zym gets the last piece of the mask, and a young Conan begins his lifelong quest of vengeance.
Traveling with pirates, Conan fights his way through all sorts of different lands until he stumbles upon one of Zym’s generals. Tracking down Zym, he comes across a girl named Tamara who is the last pureblooded descendant of Acheron. Zym needs her blood to activate the mask, which is apparently the key to him bringing back his own dead wife. And then blah blah blah, yadda yadd yadda, Conan and Zym fight, Conan and Tamara have sex, big battle, Conan wins, the end.
I had some hope after seeing Jason Mamoa’s portrayal of Khal Drogo in ‘Game of Thrones,’ but his Conan pretty much just bounced between two emotional states: smug and angry. I realize this isn’t Shakespeare, and Conan is not exactly a very deep character, but this portrayal made him so utterly uninteresting and unsympathetic. Stephen Lang, best known as the laughably generic bad guy in ‘Avatar,’ somehow manages to turn in an even hammier and more clichéd performance as Zym. Rachel Nichols, as Tamara, also has only two distinct states of existence: warrior woman or damsel in distress. The filmmakers also somehow manage to make Rose McGowan the least appealing I’ve ever seen her as Zym’s demonic daughter, Marique.
The movie has action sequences galore, but none of them stand out as anything memorable. Conan fights some slavers, some strange tribesmen who have battle cries that sound more like dinosaurs from ‘Jurassic Park,’ some sand zombies, a big tentacled creature, and there are probably more that I’m just not remembering. Yeah, we get some decent violence and a more-than-healthy dose of blood, but none of it really amounted to anything.
While I am doing my best not to compare it to the original, I just can’t help but see how this falls short of everything the original achieved. The original had a far more epic scope, better characters, fight sequences that were memorable, and a score by Basil Poledouris that still today holds its place as one of the best film scores of all time. This version had none of that. Now while I was certainly not expecting lightning to strike twice – one need only look at ‘Conan the Destroyer’ to see how far a franchise can fall in one move – I was still hopeful that I might be pleasantly surprised. Sadly, this was just as uninspired and painful to watch as last year’s remake of ‘Clash of the Titans.’ I guess all we need now is a horrible remake of ‘Red Sonja’ for this cycle to be complete.