- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ith just about every major action hero (from James Bond to Batman) getting a big screen reboot these days, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood started reviving their B-list characters as well, with Conan the Barbarian the most obvious choice. But while some people may have fond memories of the trashy Arnold Schwarzenegger films of the ‘80s, the latest Conan adventure is a misfire in every way. Exceptionally dumb and loud for a summer movie, “Conan the Barbarian” is a muddled mess of a film bogged down by poor acting, cheesy dialogue and an incoherent plot. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if the action was at least entertaining, but even that’s mishandled.
When we first meet the legendary Cimmerian, it’s as a baby, literally born on the battlefield when his mother is slain during combat. Raised by his father (Ron Perlman) to become a warrior, Conan (played as a youngster by Leo Howard) witnesses his death when the warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) raids their village looking for the final piece of a relic that will resurrect his dead wife. But before he can perform the ritual, Khalar needs to find another pureblood to sacrifice in her place – a search that lasts two decades before finally tracking down the last of their kind, a naïve monk named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), hidden away in a monastery. Conan (now a grown man in the form of Jason Momoa) has been hunting Khalar all this time, and when he learns of his plan, he kidnaps Tamara to use as bait in order to exact revenge.
It was never going to be easy trying to live up to Schwarzenegger’s iconic portrayal of the grunting, Crom-fearing barbarian, but Momoa actually makes a pretty good Conan; although he’s already had plenty of practice as the likeminded Khal Drogo on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” The problem, however, is that unlike most action heroes, Conan isn’t a particularly engaging character. Momoa injects as much personality as he can given the circumstances, but at the end of the day, Conan just isn't a very likeable protagonist – one who rarely speaks, and when he does, spouts idiotic one-liners like, “I live, I love, I slay… and I am content.” It doesn't help that Momoa's performance is so deadly serious whereas Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan (as Khalar's sorceress daughter) ham it up as the villains, because it creates a divide in the overall tone of the film that suggests director Marcus Nispel didn't know what version he wanted to make.
Of course, “Conan the Barbarian” was far beyond saving from the start. This is a movie that is so unoriginal that they’ve enlisted Morgan Freeman to serve as the narrator and features some of the blandest, paint-by-numbers action sequences in the genre. In fact, for a film that’s as action-packed as this (the plot is practically an afterthought), it’s incredibly boring, with most of the action cut together so quickly that you can rarely tell what’s going on. I can’t even imagine how much more painful it would have been to watch it in 3D, because while “Conan the Barbarian” is a pretty listless experience in regular 2D, its countless flaws would have only been magnified in an extra dimension.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Lionsgate’s poorly received reboot arrives on Blu-ray with a solid collection of bonus material that fans will definitely appreciate. In addition to a pair of commentary tracks with director Marcus Nispel and the far more entertaining Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan, the disc includes a quartet of featurettes on the history of the character (“The Conan Legacy”), the life of creator Robert E. Howard (“The Man Who Would Be Conan”), and the film's numerous action sequences (“Battle Royale” and “Staging the Fights”).