Action

TMATNB: Conan (2011)

Synopsis

Cut out of his dying mothers belly on a battlefield (gross) Conan is the ultimate warrior! Unfortunately this does not stop the Evil Warlord Zym (Stephen Lang) from burning down his village, killing his father and stealing his sword all in an effort to remake an ancient mask that will fulfil every bad guys wet dream  – world domination. Conan throws on his big boy pants (a loincloth) and goes out for some old fashioned revenge.

Why would you watch this the morning after:

I have fond memories of the original Conan. I saw it as a pre-teen and what I can remember is that the biggest dude I had ever seen wanders around with a massive sword, slaughtering people without conscience (and sometimes reason). There was gratuitous violence, nudity, big snakes and Darth Vadar played the bad guy.

The Conan franchise has been around forever (or at least since the mid-thirties) and has inexplicably  spawned books; films; TV shows; comics; video games; board games and presumably a fierce panto. There is a canon of material stretching back over 70 years and a huge fan following to call upon. Heck, even the nobel-prize winning Barrack Obama collects the comics. It’s pure escapism, but with so much source material and a large fan-base it has the chance to be…not-nothing.

conan_the_barbarian___2011_by_crustydog-d46sax8

My Take

The first quarter of the movie sets the scene. A snowy tundra is the home of a Barbarian tribe led by Conan’s father (played by the ever fantastic, and monkey faced, Ron Perlman). Conan is shown as a teen and within no time has gotten cornered by bad guys who are suspiciously similar to the orcs from LOTR. He then proceeds to hack them to pieces with unbelievable ease. And I do mean unbelievable. A recurring theme of this movie that the bad guys really throw themselves on anything pointy the good guys are holding. Suspension of disbelief is demanded right from the start.

Zym then shows up with his evil band of lieutenants (including a good turn from Stephen Donnell as a creepy, cowardly lieutenant, who, sadly, draws the short straw in the ‘torture and killing of lieutenants’ stakes that takes up most of the second half of the movie). The violence is graphic, but mainly ridiculous thanks in part to an overdub approach that replaced every blood splash with the sound of a can of paint being thrown against a wall.

Everyone except Conan dies at the hands of Zym. Fast forward 10 years and a grown up Conan is chasing after Zym for revenge. The film then proceeds to tick a bunch of boxes: Fight to establish Conan is a bad ass; get the trail of the bad guy; learn about the evil weapon that can take over the world; not care about that because you’re a badass; meet paper thin love interest; kill stuff; break into CGI castle; fight CGI monster; stuff falls over. Etc, etc.

Good bits:

Ron Perlman (as Conan’s Father).  Is good in most things and is not, not-good in this. Spends the movie looking around with the air of faint disappointment, immediately becoming the most sympathetic character. Sadly the grizzled veteran doesn’t hang around long and is out the door with his paycheck within the first act. Wily old pro.
Rose McGowan (as Zyms daughter Marique). Does a creepy evil witch un-surprisingly well and even sneaks in an unpleasant electra complex for good measure. It wasn’t in the script, but McGowan thought it was an appropriate twist. Apparently the producers got kittens so there was no official scripting of the material, it was all Rose. The thumbing sucking scene is particularly stomach churning. Good work.

Bad Bits:

All successful fantasies draw you into another world that you know isn’t true, but still convince you to pull out your brain and get attached to pure fiction for an hour and a half before common sense kicks back in. This movie constantly poops you out of that fantasy because the action is unexciting, the bad guys never threaten, none of the relationships pull at you and the main duo…irk.
Conan/Jason Momoa: Momoa cut his TV teeth in Baywatch before more recently starring in Game of Thrones and this role is something of a bastard offspring (it’s as superficial as Baywatch and has…swords. Game of Thrones has Swords right?). He paints a portrait of Conan from a broad emotional palette ranging from smug, angry, violent all the way to horny (I think I saw a sleepy in there, but my partner insists it’s not a legitimate emotion. Pah). Whilst he looks the part, at least a third of his close ups are profile shots of him frowning that really accentuate how broad and Neanderthal-like his brow is; therefore emphasising how much of a Barbarian he must be. Clever.

jason-momoa-as-conan-in-conan-the-barbarian

Tamara/Rachel Nichols: I think she was a priestess? But I’m a little vague here as her backstory was a single scene where she’s wearing a white robe, and hanging around a pool with a bunch of other hot young priestesses(?) in white robes. I’m a long way from being a feminist (see above), but even I was amazed at how backwards this role was
The character is understandably appalled at Conan’s attitude to women as possessions, but within a few scenes (and for no apparent reason)  is swayed to Conan’s way of thinking. You aren’t sure why, but this doesn’t seem to stop her throwing herself into a cave to get naked and take part in an overly long sex scene. The character has virtually nothing important to say outside of shouting ‘Conan’ a few times and though she does get involved  in the fighting, it is TV-from-the-80’s bad. All in all she has about 10 mins of screen time, of which she spends seven minutes tied up in some way (ropes, chains, handcuffs) about a minute nude or in a sex scene and the remainder as background. A non-existent character, cruelly brought to life.

Stephen Lang (as Zim). The often overlooked Lang has been around forever, but had a good year in 2009 (Public Enemies/Men Who Stare at Goats/Avatar) that put him on the Hollywood radar. Maybe because of those good turns I was expecting more. Zym is a role that begs for a furious performance, but Lang gives us…wheezing. Though he hams it up and shouts in all the right places, he’s strangely hesitant for a character described as the ‘Angel of Death’ and ‘A man they say has never been beaten’. It’s not good when you think to yourself ‘yeah, there is no way the old dude can win’ after the first 40 mins of the movie.

Conclusion:

A terrible film one assumes was made off the back of this conversation:

Drunk Guy: ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to make an R-Rated version of the Legendary Adventures of Hercules’
Michael Bay:
‘[pause]…that’s a great idea! Wait. Can you blow things up in, like, ye olde times?’
Drunk Guy:
‘….[snore]’
Michael Bay
: ‘Never mind. I’ll get one of my mini-me’s to do it.’

[pulls out IPhone and engages Michael Bay speed-dial app. A passing waiter explodes]

Michael Bay: ‘Hey Michael? It’s Michael!….Yeah, that never gets old. Listen babe I’ve got $70M, fancy doing a fantasy medieval softcore? Yeah…like Hercules… Yeah, I thought so. Later babe’.  ‘Bish-bash. Job Done’.

We promised to use this section to look at films you need on a morning after whatever came the day before. This film is not that. It will make you question what you are doing on the couch in your pants (underwear for our American friends) at 2.30 in the afternoon, it will make you question why that tub of Haagen Dazs couldn’t last more than 48 hours. It may even make you question why you liked the 1982 original. Good questions. 

Verdict: Avoid

About

Running Time: 113 mins (or just shy of 2 hours of your life. Remember: no refunds)

Release Date: 19 Aug 2011 (except for France, who got it 2 days earlier than the rest of us. Who knew the French had a thing for watching semi-naked guys sch-lack each other inside a moral vacuum)

Tagline: Hulk SMASH! (or whatever)

Director: Marcus Nispel – Who? A German director who’s early career was spent making commercials and music videos (uh-oh), before being hired by Michael Bay (uh-oh) to direct the not-irredeemably-terrible 2003 remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Subsequently went onto direct the irredeemably terrible Pathfinder (itself a remake) and the 2009 (you’ve guessed it) remake of Friday 13th. Basically he remakes cult/mediocre films (delete as appropriate based on whether or not you are prepared to own up to liking any of those films).

Written By: Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer – Sahara is about the only other noteworthy credit to date. They have scripted others, but they all…bombed.

Key Cast: Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Jason Momoa, Morgan Freeman (narrator –question: does anyone else think that hiring Morgan Freeman to narrate films should now count as a film cliché?)

Top TV Connections

  • Game of Thrones (Jason Momoa)
  • Baywatch (Jason Momoa)

Have I made my point? Can I put down the hammer?

Quotables

Tamara: “What’s your name?”

Conan: “Conan”

Tamara: “Just Conan?”

Conan: “How many names do I need?

Zing…..

Fun Facts

  • Warner tried to get the Conan franchise off the ground several times and both the Wachowski brothers and Robert Rodriguez were involved in development at various points. Would love to have seen the Rodriguez effort.
  • Dolph Lundgren turned down a role in the movie. Turned it down!!!

Streaming now on Netflix

Chris

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