Movie reviewer Ed Symkus gives "Conan the Barbarian" (starring Jason Momoa, from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Stephen Lang, from "Avatar," and Rose McGowan) only half a star. Have you seen the movie? What do you think? If not, do you plan to watch it?
My favorite credit at the end of “Conan the Barbarian” is “topless wenches,” after which appear the names of half a dozen or so buxom women who play the parts in a fairly chaste bar room scene of drunken debauchery.
My favorite scene in the film? Wow, that’s a tough choice. I don’t think there is one. I knew I was in trouble here from the moment, at the very beginning, when I heard the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman (does this guy live in a voice-over studio?) narrating a history of necromancers and unspeakable evil and all kinds of nasty things concerning the world of Cimmeria.
Then all of that bad stuff is thrown right at us – in bad 3-D!
We see Conan being born on a battlefield, where his mom dies in childbirth (not from complications, but from a sword wound). We jump forward 10 years or so to see feisty young Conan taking on and besting a horde of savages. We later get to witness the best nose-cutting scene since Roman Polanski went at Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown.” Finally, we’re introduced to the adult and very buff Conan (Jason Momoa from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”); the unspeakably evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who killed Conan’s father and is now on a sort of magical mystery search to rule the world; his unspeakably more evil, strangely tattooed and coiffed daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), who’s into slicing and dicing people with her Freddy Krueger-like finger knives; and the fetching Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who is the object of Zym’s search, since she is a woman of “pure blood,” though she doesn’t seem very virginal when Conan tries out a pickup line on her.
It’s a pretty good line, one I’ve successfully used whenever I’ve run around shirtless, hefting a huge broadsword: “I live, I love, I slay and I am content.” Works like a charm. Every time.
There are a couple more pretty good things about the movie: Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan. Lang also played the tough-as-nails Marine colonel in “Avatar.” Here he endows Zym with equal malevolence, but from a completely different approach, showing off some great range in bad guy-ness. McGowan is the film’s resident scenery chewer, playing her part as if she were part hissing snake.
It’s too bad that the story’s big-muscled, short-tempered, lusty hero doesn’t get to do much beyond looking angry or smirking (his line readings are flat), or that its heroine is presented as such a confused amalgam of character traits: Is she a peaceful monk, a fierce warrior, or a writhing sexpot? Sorry, even in a fantasy movie, you can’t be all three.
But it’s not just a fantasy movie. It’s a revenge fantasy movie. (I really wanted Conan to look at Zym and say, “You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But nothing in the script goes that deep.)
Actually it’s best described as an extremely violent revenge fantasy movie, flowing with fake-looking digitized blood. Even when the action is away from the various battlefields (where a white horse takes it on the chin worse than when Alex Karras punched out his steed in “Blazing Saddles”), there are plentiful samplings of stabbing and chopping and beheading and torture.
In the borrowing department, there’s a sorcery-induced sequence in which sand soldiers arise from the earth to do battle with Conan (skeletons do the same thing, via Ray Harryhausen’s far more charming stop-action animation, in “Jason and the Argonauts”), and for some absolutely unnecessary reason, right near the end, a Kraken is released from an underwater lair, filling up some screen time and making this whole absurd exercise just a little longer.
If you hang around for the big climax, you’ll be treated to a sword fight above a lashed-down Tamara, who is teetering precariously over a skull-filled precipice, and a full-out cat fight between Tamara and Marique. If you do stay that long, you might as well wait for the credits, then jot down the names of those topless wenches.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (R for violence, sexuality, nudity). Cast includes Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan. 1/2 star out of 4.