By Coop Cooper
Instead of coming up with a slick retread of the original 1982 “Conan the Barbarian,” Hollywood did something much worse. It took the plot from the original film, merged it together with the plot of the lesser 1984 sequel “Conan the Destroyer” and dumped out all the good stuff to create this obnoxious and brainless remake of a film.
Young Conan (Jason Momoa) vows revenge on the warlord Kahlar Zym (Stephen Lang) who slaughters his village and family. Aided by his weird/witchy daughter (Rose McGowan), Zym lays waste to kingdoms looking for pieces of a magical mask that will resurrect his sorceress wife and turn him into a god. Conan grows up into a fearsome pirate and eventually runs into Zym again who is now looking for a lost princess (Rachel Nichols) to sacrifice in order to complete his ridiculously lengthy ritual. Conan captures her first and uses her to draw Zym out into a final confrontation.
Everything that could be done wrong with this film was done wrong. Director Marcus Nispel overkilled the gore and grime to such a high degree within the first twenty minutes, it made the grossest and off-putting of horror movies seem tame. Somewhere in the second half the tone became as cheesy and light as a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. By the end, it went nowhere and fell apart under its never-ending, goofy stunt sequences and a choppy editing style that simply doesn’t work with 3-D films. For those of you complaining about 3-D films giving you headaches, this one is designed to do it.
I consider the 1982 “Conan” to be the best Sword and Sorcery movie ever made. This remake took everything great about the original and threw the baby out with the bathwater. Gone are the great speeches, the character depth, scary villains and memorable action sequences. Instead of an orphaned slave kid you can root for, Momoa’s Conan begins as a psychopathic bad seed. Even his father (Ron Perlman) is afraid of him. Instead of being sold to a gladiator circuit after his father’s death, he inexplicably becomes a scumbag pirate (I guess because pirates are back in style this year). There’s no reason to like him, despite Momoa who excelled in playing a similar character in HBO’s fantastic “Game of Thrones” series. He doesn’t go through a fraction of the hardships that Schwarzenegger’s Conan suffered, and the character weakens because of it.
The rest of the cast portray characters who are either subhuman or exaggerated to the point of insult. The quickest way to identify a bad guy is to look for the balding ones (including the females). Even the good guys look like werewolves, vampires and other assorted monsters. Lang’s Zym is extremely boring compared to James Earl Jones’ creepy snake cult leader, Thulsa Doom from the original. Both Rose McGowan and Rachel Nichols tie for worst actress of the year. I once said that Nichols should consider a career change back when I saw her in 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and after this performance, I reaffirm that opinion.
Early 20th century writer Robert E. Howard created Conan during a time when many similar pulp heroes showed up in dime store magazines. Be forewarned. Hollywood is about to take an indiscriminate hatchet to many of the popular ones. A “Solomon Kane” movie was made in 2009 but failed to reach theaters. “John Carter” (based of the old “John Carter of Mars” story series) releases this upcoming March. Unfortunately, word from early screenings indicate it could be a stinker. Several studios are hastily trying to put together “Tarzan” movies and a “Doc Savage” movie is scheduled to release sometime in 2012. After this “Conan” film, I’m not going to expect Hollywood to bring their A-game to any of these venerable properties. The same thing probably would have happened to the new “Lone Ranger” movie starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, but it was mercifully cancelled last month due to a ludicrous $300 million dollar price tag.
Will audiences like “Conan”? Only if they can stomach watching what amounts to a nasty twenty-minute gore horror film, followed by a seventy-minute theme park stunt show that never seems to end. If any good can come from this, it’s Jason Momoa. I didn’t like him here but after seeing him in “Game of Thrones,” I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere in his career, he’s got another good performance in him. Otherwise, “Conan” tops the latest “Transformers” as the worst movie of the year.
Rating: 1 out of 5