For a start: I think Conan the Barbarian (dir. Marcus Nispel) sets a record. I think it’s the first human-based fiction film that has more grunting, shouting, growling and groaning than actual lines of dialogue in it. It is of paramount importance to know this, before judging the film. William Shakespeare or Woody Allen this is not.
What is it then? Well, it is a remake of the pulp film that brought international fame to Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982. It is not based on a novel by pulp writer Robert E. Howard, although it does take its titular character from these novels. A titular character that is played by the gigantic Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, who has appeared in similar setting in the recent HBO series Game of Thrones (which, in terms of quality, actually does not deserve to be mentioned in a Conan review).
The film is as stupid as Green Lantern or Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but at least in the first hour it manages to deliver some light, unpretentious fun, mostly because it is obvious that the filmmakers know they are making trash, and delight in it. After that first hour the film slows down and turns into a series of endless, clichéd fight scenes with evil wizards and weird monsters. Fight scenes that, crucially, do not have the intensity and gore of the bigger action scenes of the first hour.
The “story” (read: thin as silk excuse for excessive decapitation and mutilation) is something like this: Young Conan is born during battle and raised to be a magnificent warrior by his father (Ron Perlman, always a pleasure), the chief of his tribe of Barbarians. But the tribe is ambushed and slaughtered by the evil Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, just as in Avatar playing a one-dimensional bad guy in a 3D film), and the kid Conan is left for dead. Yet he survives to grow up to be Jason Momoa, and spends the rest of the film plotting revenge and slaughtering Zym’s henchmen. Zym, meanwhile, is seeking, together with his diabolical daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), the magical power to resurrect his witch wife and become invincible. A power he finds in the blood of the beautiful Tamara (Rachel Nichols), who just happens to fall in love with Conan.
Yes, it’s that kind of a film.
It is actually quite miraculous that so much plot is discernible amidst all the shouting and growling, and despite the lack of actual dialogue. It is probably because this film has been made a thousand times before, and most times of these made quite better, that the story is recognizable.
Although the 3D is superfluous and shoddy, and although the film limps from cliché to cliché, it is quite enjoyable during its first hour. After that first hour, the lack of originality and character start to weigh in and they throw this version of Conan off balance, and off the course to cult appreciation.