Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the movies, they’re resurrecting concepts and entire films from the 1980s like Footloose (so help me) and Conan the Barbarian, based on Robert E. Howard’s pulp magazine hero. Beefy Jason Momoa steps into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sandals to star in the new screen adaptation, which (for once) makes vivid and entertaining use of 3-D.
Given that I had no expectations for this picture I thought it wasn’t bad: it’s elaborate, well-mounted, and never dull. Ron Perlman is well cast as Conan’s father, the powerful leader of a tribe known as the Cimmerians. His death at the hands of a cruel rival sends his—
—son on a long-term quest for revenge and satisfaction. He even allows himself to be captured at one point so he can get closer to the man he means to kill, Khalar Zym, played by Stephen Lang—the villain from Avatar—and his daughter, an exotic sorceress played by Rose McGowan.
Conan also acquires a traveling companion named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), whose pure blood makes her a target for the evildoers. Together they endure a daunting series of tests and challenges.
You don’t go to a movie like this expecting to hear Shakespearean dialogue, but the action, under Marcus Nispel’s direction, is consistently vigorous and exciting. So are the visual effects, from an epic battle with sand creatures to a struggle with an enormous sea serpent. But it’s the bad guys who give the movie weight and solidity. Lang is a truly formidable opponent with a strong physical presence; McGowan stops just this side of camp to become a figure of danger.
I try to take each movie I see on its own terms; this isn’t my favorite kind of entertainment, and some of its violence is extreme, but on the whole Conan the Barbarian is pretty good, for what it is. The screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood may not be inspired, but it does what it sets out to do. I’m not sure if Jason Momoa has what it takes to become an A-list star, but he definitely looks the part of Conan.
Incidentally, I’ve been quoting my favorite line from the film: “I live, I love, I slay, I am content.” I think I’m going to adopt it as my new mantra.