Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Review: Conan The Barbarian

Rating: 15
Duration: 112 mins

There's no doubt a remake can gain masses of negativity, and that's even before a camera begins to roll.  Undeniably, Hollywood is rife with shoddy, unimaginative remakes in the hope of earning a quick buck. This doesn't bare well for Marcus Nispel's reworking of Arnie classic, Conan the Barbarian. Without intending to sound like a broken record, my views on the 'r-word' could drive me into a frenzied outburst, but after the recent rioting, I shall compose myself. Digression aside; a struggle presents itself when attempting to revamp an iconic film of the 80's into something for the desensitised populous of 2011. A film that worked 30 years previous, won't necessarily be well received today, especially as Conan warrants no justification for a remake, thus unashamedly jumps on the cash-in bandwagon.

It's worth noting that this version bares little comparison to of plot to the 1982 original, other than the title character, of course. The story shapes our protagonist, Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), into the same character, but along a different path. Momoa's Conan doesn't enter slavery as per Schwarzeneggar's. Instead, he is left orphaned to shape himself into the warrior presented before us.
The story (if one can decipher such) is as simple as tales go; Conan seeks bloody revenge on, Khalar (Stephen Lang), for the murder of his father, Corin (Ron Pearlman). Subsequently (and conveniently) it is this same foe that plans to reassemble the shattered remains of an ancient mask that, when reformed, will allow him to resurrect his deceased wife all with the aid of daughter, Marique (Rose McGowan).  Mind boggling stuff.

The plot plays out as you'd expect; it's straight forward in its nature, which leads to a predicted climax, yet oddly none of the entertainment value is sacrificed as the experience merely prevents you from engaging your brain. Considering its intended demographic enjoy violence, gore and a shot of perfect breasts, it will suffice in giving its audience what it wants. Thankfully, the film doesn't try to disguise itself as something it wants to be, which makes Conan an, at times, pleasant, if not mindless, adventure.

It's a fair assumption that audiences won't enter this with great expectations. If you believe you're going to see an intricately crafted piece of cinema, you are sadly delusional (and most likely insane). What we do get is something that, if contextualised in its genre, satisfies on an adequate level. The title alone generates  associations and it's exactly what we are presented with; testosterone, violence, objectification, blood, gore, and sheer brutishness in abundance, as we follow a protagonist that would make 300's Leonidas look like a crying school girl. Sure, Momoa plays the title role effectively and let’s face it, it's never going to be the most challenging, as intellect and subtlety are substituted for brawn and killing power (a prime example of the dynamic of the character is when he bellows, "Woman! Here! Now!"). 

What isn't clear is Nispel's tonal intention. It could be forgiven if it were tongue-in-cheek, but on the face of it, Conan appears as a genuine attempt to make a serious movie. Aside from some amusing lines (mainly down to Conan's deplorable manner of addressing the female of the species), the general tone tries to evoke a seriousness, but struggles to convince. However, what Conan does do well is execute its set pieces and action sequences with few hiccups. The pacing is high octane and, as various sword fights, chases and killings ensues, the action remains at a surprisingly entertaining level, in fact, more so than a majority of Transformers 3. What's more, the use of 3D is actually acceptable, which again surpasses dire expectation.

There's no denying Momoa looks the part; his ripped torso and rugged appearance serve well to convey him as a one man army. It's unsurprising that Conan displays the emotional dexterity of a toothpick as he is constantly required to overtly display his machismo and physical prowess over everything else. Naturally, he engages in an obligatory sex scene with pretty damsel, Tamara (Rachel Nichols), whom he vows to protect upon learning Khalar's intent to use her as a vessel for his dead wife. Touching. 

Conan the Barbarian is essentially a genre piece that fits into its context, which by no means makes it a great film, just an entertaining one. It doesn't sink to its predicted lows, but you weren't expecting the depth of Inception now, were you? It doesn't try to be anything other than what it is; a non taxing, fantasy-action, that entertains when it comes to its set pieces and choreographed fights, yet ultimately proves that this is no more than a shameless cash in, rather than a thought provoking creation, a la Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Momoa delivers a Neanderthal-like performance suited to the character, culminating in a film that can ultimately offer no depth in terms of story or character development, but does promise copious amounts of blood and mutilation, assuming that sort of gratuity floats your boat. 

Images: Google Images

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