Conan The Barbarian
Verily, the God of Bad Cinema doth hate us so. During a summer of mediocrity he opened up the seventh seal and sent us plagues of lycra-clad pussies (Captain America, Green Lantern, Thor, X-Men: The Wonder Years), Shia the Beef shilling for the indestructible robot toy franchise, more crappy 3D (Priest, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, all the superhero movies, Cars 2) poking its way out of a screen near you than a William Castle retrospective and then there were The Smurfs, Sweet Baby Jesus the horror of The Smurfs, possibly the most cynical, culturally and intellectually bankrupt 103 minutes you’ve ever spent in a cinema.
But lo, the Lord of Cinematic Excrement was merely toying with us, for now he has unleashed the greatest weapon in his arsenal, a film so devoid of any cultural or artistic merit you will weep for the future, preferring nuclear holocaust just so the sightless, pus-filled eyes of the deformed, mewling, mutant babies brought up in the radioactive ruins of our shattered civilisation will never have to look upon the horror, the horror that makes you realise that the sooner an asteroid hits this planet and wipes humanity from its face the better, at last giving some other species its turn at dominance. That horror is Conan The Barbarian.
The cinematic equivalent of eating lead paint chips during a back alley handjob from a crack whore, Conan The Barbarian is a film that you will actually feel lower your IQ while it leaves you feeling empty, dissatisfied, used, soiled, guilty about the precious moments of life you spent watching this garbage and poorer, financially and intellectually, as it reaches into your pocket and relieves you of your hard-earned. Yet another Hollywood reboot, and, let’s make no mistake here, by reboot I mean ill-judged, thought-free attempt to kick some new life into a dead franchise as cheaply as possibly. Future generations will one day look back upon Conan The Barbarian and recognise it as the tipping point, the moment when our culture started to gain momentum as it rolls downhill towards the waiting idiocracy.
Scrawled in crayon by the idiots who brought us such cultural high-water marks as Sahara (Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer) and one of The Crow sequels (Sean Hood), the plot of Conan is simple. After a ludicrous Morgan Freeman-voiced info-dump (all sepia maps and random carnage) which basically tells us “This all happened before Atlantis sank, you know, A LONG, LONG TIME AGO,” we are dumped into the middle of a barbarian battlefield where baby Conan is delivered in a DIY-Caesarean by his father (Hellboy). Conan grows up to be a sulky adolescent (Leo Howard) and just as he and Hellboy are getting to spend some quality time smelting swords (well, it is supposed to be some kind of Iron Age) and cuffing each other manfully, evil warlord Khalar Zym (the shouty scenery-chewing bad guy from Avatar) rides into Conan’s village looking for the missing piece of a magic mask that will give him the power of a god or something. After torturing Hellboy, killing everyone in town and setting fire to the village, Zym rides off to conquer the world and generally hang around waiting for Conan to grow up, become that model guy that used to be in one of the crap Stargate spin-offs and come looking for revenge.
Cue Morgan phoning in another info-dump, some freeing of slaves, some saving of topless wenches (WTF? He’s supposed to be a barbarian. Surely he should be enslaving those topless wenches?) and some more manly cuffing before the now adult Conan (Jason Momoa) suddenly remembers he meant to kill that guy who killed Hellboy and sets of on a quest for revenge, saving (and deflowering) sacred pure-blood virgin priestess Tamara (Rachel Nichols) from Zym and his creepy, sexy, incestuous, witch-daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, who else?) along the way. Cue some really boring hack-and-slash swordplay and some disappointing monsters against a series of CGI backdrops.
Directed by Marcus Nispel (the hack who also gave us lacklustre reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th), Conan isn’t a film; it’s a video game in waiting. Conan fight baddies. Conan win. Conan fight boss. Conan win. Conan level-up. Conan fight more baddies, Conan sneak, Conan fight next boss, level-up. There’s no scene that can’t be ended with either some manly cuffing or holding a sword/baby/severed head aloft and howling at the camera as it cranes above you. And why is it in fantasy films like this that the characters that attain godlike powers never actually bother using them, preferring instead to go toe-to-toe with some muscle-bound oaf with a sword? Brutal and crude, this Conan lacks the wit, intelligence and sense of fun of the 1982 Arnie movie. Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Hollywood maverick John Milius, the original Conan The Barbarian was an adult fantasy, steeped in cod-Nietzschean philosophy, it was an ambitious attempt at myth-making which at least credited its audience with more intelligence than its protagonist who’s, well, an oaf with a sword. It’s doubtful that the team behind the reboot could even spell Nietzche. Which is worrying when the director’s German.
According to popular myth, at the premiere of the Victor Mature-starring Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille asked his friend Groucho Marx what he thought of the film. “Well, there's just one problem, C.B.” said Groucho. “No picture can hold my interest where the leading man's tits are bigger than the leading lady's.” As an actor, that pretty much sums up Jason Momoa; fantastic bosoms. The best in the film in fact. No small achievement in a film that seems to feature every beautiful woman in Bulgaria with her puppies out (seriously, check out the end credits, you’ve never seen so many women billed as ‘Topless Wench’). A model-turned-actor who’s own hair once gave him whiplash (google it), Momoa spends much of the film with a constipated frown on his face and looks more like he’s on a quest for a mirror than revenge. Better at butchering dialogue than bad guys, he alternates growling his lines with GROWLING his lines and has none of the charisma of the Governator. He doesn’t even have the charisma of Kevin Sorbo. And just how can you take seriously as Conan a guy whose own hair is capable of incapacitating him?
As Zym, Stephen Lang just chews the scenery much as he did in Avatar while Rachel Nichols manages to be both simpering and prissy as the damsel-in-distress. You’d be hard pushed to describe the 1982 Conan as a feminist film but at least Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria had a job. She was a barbarian warrior and thief in her own right who even takes a bullet (ok, a magic snake arrow) for Conan.
Perhaps the only thing worth seeing Conan for is Rose McGowan. Always the best thing about whatever she’s in, Rose doesn’t disappoint, vamping it up in white pancake make-up, cute facial tattoos and blood-red lips, clicking her Freddy Krueger-style talons and cuddling up to daddy in a silk-draped bed, an image reminiscent of Serge & Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Lemon Incest video. Creating an instant Goth pin-uo girl as the evil witch Marique, McGowan injects some much needed camp and humour into a film that despite being wall-to-wall boobs and blood, succeeds in being stupefyingly boring.
Completely lacking tension, wit, entertainment or any form of artistic, intellectual or cultural merit, Conan The Barbarian is profoundly depressing, a moronic, cynical triumph of corporate film-making. It’s all downhill from here folks.
Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Said Taghmaoui, Leo Howard
Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood