Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie Review: "Conan the Barbarian" (2011) (SPOILERS)

I saw the new Conan the Barbarian with Jason Momoa Sunday afternoon.  I wasn't able to review it until now. Here we go...

The Good

Unlike the Arnold version, this actually felt like one of the original stories, complete with exotic cities with hard-to-pronounce names and lots of fight scenes.  And we see Conan's early career where he was a thief, a pirate, and a general-purpose trouble-maker rather than him escaping slavery, performing one illegal feat, and then going off on a quest for revenge.  And like the stories, it's extremely entertaining.

The beginning in which we see Conan as a child and the destruction of his village, a plotline borrowed from the first movie and not from Howard or his successors, is extremely well-done.  We see how Conan was born on the battlefield, per the original stories, and see how he becomes a warrior despite being much younger than the other warriors.  The scene where Conan, who can't be more than 12 or so, takes down several Pictish raiders was awesome.  Leo Howard did a good job as the child Conan.  And the Picts' battle-cries were downright spooky.

Jason Momoa makes a far better adult Conan than Arnold did.  Conan in the stories, although lacking formal education, was very intelligent, while Arnold's Conan came off as rather stupid.  Later in life, he became King of Aquilonia, and rather than blow the realm's entire treasury on booze, gambling, and orgies as a younger, more foolish man might have, he became a very effective ruler.  Momoa's Conan was intelligent and as his friend Artus (Nonso Anozie) said, had the heart of a king.  The Conan of the stories was also lithe and agile, not a walking tank like Arnold in his younger years was.

Ron Perlman did an excellent job as Conan's father Corin.  Particularly notable is his performance when the warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) interrogates him in the forge and how he kills himself to allow Conan to escape.

And Lang did a good job as Zym, who was fairly complex for a sword-and-sorcery villain.  Yes, he did intend to rule the world and become a god, but he dearly loved his late wife and wanted to resurrect her.  And when Fassir (Raad Rawi) told him his wife deserved to die (burning alive to be more specific) for witchcraft--an act Zym and his daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) were forced to watch--he goes convincingly berserk.  He made a better villain than Thulsa Doom from the original, although Doom wasn't bad.

I liked Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who Zym and his daughter are hunting to use her blood to reactivate the mask.  She's no shrinking violet needing to be rescued all the time and shows herself a capable fighter, but at the same time she's not unrealistically depicted as being the combat equal of Conan or Zym in the name of political correctness either.

Also, props to Alina Puscau, Zlatka Raikova, and to any of the other actresses from early in the film who were required to have actual conversations and act while topless.  I'm referring to the scene where they're rescued from the slavers early on and later when they're hanging out with Conan, Artus, and their crew in the bar.

When I was a student at UGA, I saw a hypnotist show in which several women and one man were hypnotized and convinced they were naked in front of the spectators.  The women proceeded to start screaming and covering themselves, while the man didn't seem to care at all. 

I didn't detect any trace of awkwardness or fear at all in any of actresses playing the slave girls or "topless wenches" when they conversed with Conan and Artus.  It was like they were carrying on an ordinary conversation, only not wearing much of anything.  And points to Momoa and Anozie for convincingly acting like this kind of thing is totally normal and carrying on ordinary conversations with the actresses rather than staring awkwardly at their breasts the entire time.

The Bad

Some of the dialogue was laugh-out-loud and not necessarily intentionally.  The only specific incident I can recall is whe Corin holds the infant Conan over the battlefield and roars dramatically.  Narm (see TVTropes) alert.

When Conan raids the slaver camp in the beginning of the film, he tells Artus "no man should live in chains."  Conan as a young man would violently object to being enslaved himself but I don't recall any moral scruples about enslaving anyone else.  Conan is described as having a personal moral code, but the only part of it I can recall is that he will not, under any circumstances, commit rape.

Also, it was fairly strange that Tamara kept referring to herself as a monk when, being a woman, the proper term is nun.

Also, early in the film when Conan joins the other Cimmerian boys in an initiation ritual and they encounter Pictish raiders, it would have been nice if they had been identified.  I know from the Conan mythology that these were the Picts, the Cimmerians' hereditary enemies, but it wasn't mentioned.  It would have been pretty easy to have one of the older boys yell "the Picts" upon seeing them, perhaps before another boy tells the others they need to return to the village.

In the film, we see Zym's daughter essentially come onto her father and Zym rejects her.  However, when Remo (Milton Welsh) gets dropped through the the roof of Zym's elephant-carried ship, it looks like they're in bed together.  Maybe Marique was having nightmares of watching her mother being burned as a witch or something and needed to be comforted, but given what transpired earlier, it looks rather dubious.  Even encouraging Marique's incestuous feelings would be out-of-character for Zym.

When Zym interrogates Conan's father in the forge, we see the battle is still going on outside.  That seems rather strange.  It would be more sensible for the enemy commander to wait until all resistance is subdued before he takes the time to torture and interrogate someone.  In the film, Conan intervened and wounded both Zym and one of his commanders--had adult warriors barged in, things might have gone badly for the villains.

Of course, given how Zym's whole motivation is resurrecting his wife using the Acheronian mask and the last piece is within his grasp, him not being especially rational about the whole thing makes sense.

When Conan needs help infiltrating Zym's fortress, he seeks out thief Ela-Shan (Saïd Taghmaoui ), who owes Conan his life and freedom, at Argalon, the city of thieves.  It's not made clear how far Argalon actually is from Zym's city and it doesn't seem to take very long to get there and back.

And when Zym battles Conan while wearing the activated mask, the mask who gives the wearer supernatural powers, all we see him do is try to summon his wife's soul from the underworld to possess Tamara.  Granted, this would tie in with him being focused solely on reviving his wife and ignoring more immediate concerns, but it would have been nice to see him throwing lightning bolts at Conan or something.

The Verdict

This was an entertaining movie and far more faithful to the source material than Arnold's version.  I'm definitely going to snag this on DVD.  8 out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. I compare the two Conan films to the the two Punisher films. The 2004 Punisher film, while horribly unfaithful to the source material, was a good movie that managed to capture the spirit of the sourse inspiration, and even felt realistic. The 2008 film, while more faithful to the ultraviolent comic, was poorly acted, poorly executed, and did not feel like it could have been real.

    Same difference with the 1981 and 2011 Conan films. The 1981 film, while not faithful in its entirely, made Hyperboa seem like a real place, and the film itself felt like a legend unfolding. While campy at times, it's a joy to watch each time. The 2011 film, while more faithful in some ways, was much less well done, especially in script and cinematography, both areas that the 1981 film excelled in. Worse, courtesy of the CGI effects, it looks and feels fake for much of the movie.

    Also, I never got a 'stupid' vibe from Conan in the original film either. Quite the contrary, I always thought he was rather clever. While MoaMoa does a decent job, I wish he would have been more like his charachter on Game of Thrones, rather than do a Christian Bale's Batman voice and then LARP his way through the film.