By Crom, Judge David Johnson wants his money back!
Born on the battlefield.
How hard can it be to make a badass, barbarian movie when you have access to a hard-R rating and a wealth of source material? Pretty hard!
Facts of the Case
Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) is Conan the Barbarian. A warrior of Cimmeria, Conan came into the world thanks to a clutch C-section during a major battle. His war-hardened father (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) then endeavored to teach his Alpha male son about the magic of steel and the wonders of stabbing. Just when Conan is primed to be the village stud, his people are assaulted by an evil army. One thing leads to another and 25 minutes later (!) we finally see Conan grown up and he's a thief, a carouser, and generally a man of low caliber. If there's one thing that will jolt him from his drunken stupor, it's the chance to exact bloody vengeance on the man who slaughtered his village.
There's obviously a bit more to the story, which includes a supernatural plot to resurrect a spouse, Rose McGowan running around like a maniac (made up, for some reason, to look like a human-sized fetus), some crappy CGI sand warriors falling off scaffolding, and a dark fortress that needs to be assaulted which is left surprisingly unprotected. So, yeah, the same junk you would find in any half-baked made-for-TV fantasy movie. Except this a big-budget 3D summer release, an attempt to restart a vaunted franchise, and Conan the Barbarian is a great character. Way to go Lionsgate! You had the chance to do something violent and cool, but instead squeezed out a mead-soaked Cimmerian deuce.
This movie blows. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the type of theater-going experience that floats my boat knows that I give R-rated sword-swinging a wide berth. You give me a jacked hero with a furrowed brow, some righteous barbarian bloodletting, and I'll be happy. Just as long as the plot and dialogue isn't lethally dumb. As cheap a date as I am, I can't get behind Conan the Barbarian, a misfire of such fantastic proportions I have to think the franchise is effectively shelved for the foreseeable future.
Nothing works. Momoa's impressive physical presence is squandered by a predictable and shallow character arc (the vengeance-fueled rapscallion finds a higher purpose!), the villain is a standard-issue megalomaniac with an overly-complex plan that doesn't make much sense, the large-scale action pieces are ruined by shady CGI and implausible scenarios, and around every corner lurks a piece of dialogue that will surely elicit howls of derisive laughter (who really shouts "He cut off my nose!" when one's nose is in the process of getting cut off?).
The gravest sin committed comes when the swords begin to swing. There are very few grounded encounters between Conan and his foes where Momoa gets to show off his impressive craft. Director Marcus Nispel is more interested in cooking up frantic, effects-laden encounters that are more gimmick-driven (Sandmen! Monster tentacles! Giant wooden ritual contraption falling down a chasm!). Yes, blood flows freely, but the offal is primarily CGI-enhanced, giving the violence a cartoonish effect. The sum total is a lot of sound, a lot of fury, and a migraine that would send even a mighty warrior like Conan scrambling for the medicine cabinet. I should have known I was in store for a long night, when I had to sit through the first 20 minutes of precocious kids playing with swords. Honestly, Conan pushing the Wheel of Pain for five minutes in 1982's Conan the Barbarian was worlds more entertaining than this clumsy origin story.
If you are more forgiving than I, Lionsgate has a solid Blu-ray for you. The 2.40:1/1080p (MVC-encoded for 3D) transfer is a top performer, transmitting the world of Hyboria with dazzling crispness. The stand-by criticism remains—boosted clarity can betray weaker visual effects—but when Nispel shifts his attention to real-world sets and set-ups the picture quality pops. The DTS-HD Master Audio track suitably conveys the clashing steel and various bombast of the mayhem, but Tyler Bates' score is generic and dull. Granted, it is 7.1 audio, a rarity these days, so that's appreciated.
Extras: Two commentary tracks with Nispel, Momoa, and McGowan (they all seem pretty excited about the pain they have wrought); four plus-sized HD featurettes examining Robert E. Howard, the Conan mythology, staging the fight scenes, and the action engineering; a theatrical trailer, 2D version, DVD copy, and Digital copy.
This movie is so bad it makes Conan the Destroyer retroactively better.
Hear the lamentations of the women, Conan. Hear them. It's your fault.
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Scales of Justice
• 2D Version
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