It looks like a video game. Skyrim, to be exact. It has that same dreamy quality that isn’t quite painting and isn’t quite real. I mean, the CGI is seriously naff in places, but for a good 90% of the time, Conan the Barbarian is as proudly beautiful as the well-oiled beefcake with the purty hair flinging the sword around. And my, is he pretty! We even get to see his bum.
Selling points aside, it’s not a bad film at all. The premise is broadly similar to the classic Schwarzenegger movie, with the Lumbering Man Mountain (Jason Momoa) seeking revenge on the evil sorceror (Stephen Lang) who killed his pa (Ron Perlman). He’s not sold into slavery, but instead spends a few years as a pirate, enjoying the company of gratuitously topless very friendly ladies before chancing upon Just Feisty Enough Bickering Love Interest (Rachel Nichols). You know the type – she’s just handy enough with a sword to garner his interest, but shrieks helplessly whenever there’s an opportunity for him to heroically come to the rescue.
See, Jodie Foster lookalike Nichols is descended from the wizards who made a special mask that Evil Sorceror needs to subjugate the world, so she’s the obligatory human sacrifice who has to be heroically rescued by our bemuscled pouter with the purty hair. At no point does Stephen Lang turn into a snake, so points off for that, but Rose McGowan puts in a suitably creepy performance as his seriously disturbed daughter.
It all ticks along very much like a bunch of cutscenes, including one sequence that would make a very fine platform game – or, if you prefer, it’s the sort of very old-fashioned action film that people stopped making circa 1984 on the grounds that most of them are crap.
This is all pretty likeable stuff, however, and should definitely appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Scorpion King or the original Conan films. It’s quite gory in places, but not overly so, and is very much Boy Fantasy in contrast to the Girl Fantasy that’s dominating the cinemas lately. Perhaps this is why it tanked: wrong place, wrong time. It does have its flaws, mainly in its uneven pace and weak ending, but it’s unfair to say that “while its relentless, gory violence is more faithful to the Robert E. Howard books, Conan the Barbarian forsakes three-dimensional characters, dialogue, and acting in favor of unnecessary 3D effects”. I wasn’t expecting to see Dostoyevsky’s name in the credits.
Apparently, the acting was pretty bad, but I can’t say that I noticed. Jason Momoa does have awfully pretty hair, and there’s some explosions and s*** too. If that sounds like your idea of fine entertainment, ignore the critics and enjoy the show.
(I’m sorry, was I drooling?)