Conan the Barbarian

Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. Morgan Freeman says it in the voiceover, so it must be true, even if it does sound faintly silly. It's about the only thing this version has in common with the first Conan movie, though, so I thought I might as well mention it.

Jason Momoa is Conan. He played a character named Ronon in Stargate: Atlantis, which I thought was kind of interesting. All right, really I'm just scrambling for something interesting, since the movie didn't give me a whole lot of that. The point is, he rather looks the part for this character, at least. I think it might be that heavy brow ridge thing he's got going.

In the first flick, and in the books by Robert E. Howard, Conan was sold into slavery as a child after his parents were killed, then later escaped and became a thief. In this flick -- which, apparently, was supposed to stick very closely to the original source material but must have changed its mind somewhere along the way -- he's never a slave at all, though he is a thief. And he has a really, really bad start in life. I mean insanely bad. And bloody, though that's the best word to describe this entire movie, really. There's blood everywhere, whether the injuries currently being inflicted on some nameless, hapless character should actually cause bleeding or not.

Anyway, Ron Perlman from Season of the Witch is his father, Corin, and it's such a relief. The first quarter of the movie, with Leo Howard running around as the young Conan and Ron Perlman as his dad, is the only good part of the flick. The director didn't do much else as far as I could tell, but he did manage to get a good performance out of a child actor, which is always impressive. Then Conan is orphaned, turns into Jason Momoa, and I stopped caring.

Not entirely, mind you, but mostly. I liked Rachel Nichols to start with -- she plays Tamara here, though she was also in Star Trek, and don't bother trying to remember who she was. She was the Orion roommate Uhura had at Starfleet Academy, the one who almost slept with Kirk. I liked her because she wasn't just doing the damsel in distress bit. She'd been taught how to fight, and did, though she often looked faintly astonished by the fact that she was stabbing and kicking people, but considering she was a monk, the astonishment isn't much of a surprise. I know, she'd be a nun, not a monk, but she calls herself a monk and was living in a monastery, even though all the female extras are called nuns in the credits. The point is, I liked her until she did something very stupid. Teenager in a slasher flick stupid.

Stephen Lang, who was the evil colonel in Avatar, is just as evil here, and just as much of a caricature. He's called Khalar Zym, and he and his terrifying Goth witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) want to take over the world, because that's what his wife wanted before she died. She was a witch too, and by that I mean sorceress, not just what the neighbors called her. And here, taking over the world requires the Mask. No, not the comic book, or even the dreadful movie inspired by the comic book, but the Mask of Acheron, made by a bunch of ancient necromancers.

The Mask was broken a long time ago, and to prevent anyone from putting it back together, the barbarian tribes who beat up the necromancers each take a piece to guard. This works about as well as you'd expect, and before you know it, Zym has all the bits. He just needs to find a Pureblood. No, not a Harry Potter Pureblood, but a direct descendant of the necromancers who made the mask. Then he has to take her to Hamunaptra to perform the ritual. Wait, that's not right. He has to take her to Skull Cave to perform the ritual. That's it. Sometimes I did feel like I was watching The Mummy, though, only the badly-edited version where the pacing was all off. And sometimes it was like watching Prince of Persia, only less lighthearted and fun; and sometimes I just amused myself by trying to identify all the styles of dress and architecture. There are lots of them.

Of course there are some seriously cool fight scenes, and there is a suitably epic feel to the whole thing. The actors all do what they can -- I was expecting to loathe Conan because Jason Momoa didn't seem to be able to act, judging by the previews, but he did okay. He just had the same problem all the other actors had, which was the script. It was rewritten at the last minute, just before filming started, and that's almost never a good sign. And I think everyone forgot that Conan is supposed to be pulp fiction. No, not the movie with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, the genre. It's supposed to be fun, over the top, implausible but able to make you not care about that. Saïd Taghmaoui as the thief Ela-Shan was the only actor who seemed to be having fun, but he was hardly in the film and didn't get any good lines. Though he was the only person who got to swear, and he had reason to.

Two and three-quarters out of five, and one is entirely for the first part of the movie. Some of us waited around for a teaser scene at the end that might help fix things, but no luck. There's no teaser scene at all, I mean, not that there is one but that it didn't help. My suggestion is to watch the original version with Schwarzenegger. The effects are primitive, the fight scenes lack a certain edge (pardon the pun), and James Earl Jones' hair alone is enough to make anyone giggle. And yet I had much more fun watching that one.

Momoa v. Schwarzenegger. Check out those swords.


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