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Conan 2011

August 25, 2011


Conan the Barbarian (2011)

 By John Leavengood

MY CALL:  A rather disappointing Conan movie, but an entertaining movie nonetheless.  You may notice that I make almost no mention of the plot in this review.  Why?  It wasn’t very interesting.  I’ll give it a B-/C+.  Far from a “must see” but fun.  WHAT TO WATCH INSTEAD:  Watch Troy and skip to all the combat scenes.  That way you’ll remember what action is supposed to look like.  300 was right on the money, too.

            I had been waiting so very long for this movie—perhaps over a decade.  I always wondered who they’d find to replace Schwarzenegger and whether there would be a strong comic book fantasy element or not.  Judging by the trailer, they went with the Boris Vallejo fantasy with serpents and sorcery (i.e., a creepy Rose McGowen sorceress).  I was thrilled.  I also like the guy they found to play Conan.  He does a great job as Khal Drogo, a nomadic barbarian clan leader, in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  Now for the bad news…

            Yes, Mamoa played a great barbarian in Game of Thrones.  So if it’s a barbarian you want, then maybe you should skip this movie and get HBO.  Okay, okay, Conan wasn’t bad.  But it wasn’t great either.  The movie did a good job conveying Conan’s hunger for battle and revenge.  Unfortunately, when it came to expediting these notions during the action scenes, specifically in terms of camerawork and film editing, it failed to deliver.  The action shots, which is why any of us went to see this movie, were choppy, discontinuous reels alternating between way-to-close-ups and pan-outs.  The close-ups were so close that you couldn’t see the entire actor or actors as they tumble about or clash swords.  This was particularly disappointing when Conan faced off against our villain (played by Avatar’s rather buff-for-his-age Stephen Lang) or a huge tentacled monster.  What upset me most is that this was not necessarily the director’s fault, nor did they miscast Mamoa—rather Mamoa was perfectly cast.  The problem was entirely a result of post-production.  No film editing Academy Award for this one.

            Another bummer was the love interest (played by Rachel Nichols).  She’s some virgin monk who is naturally capable of Slap-Chopping her enemies with ease like a Puerto Rican knife-fighter from the Bronx.  No effort is made to explain where she gained her training and, even if they did, she did not come off as a credible tough chick.  You want credible tough chicks?  Try A Perfect Getaway.  On that note, McGowan (as a high-foreheaded sorceress) also seemed a bit wanting for toughness.  Sure she had “tough chick” lines, but they weren’t delivered by a tough chick.  She came off as tougher in Jawbreaker playing a bitchy high schooler than she was as an adult playing a malevolent, murderous necromancer.  I really didn’t care for either of the female characters.  In fact, other than Mamoa and Lang, I didn’t care for anyone.

            So let’s end with the strong suits.  I really appreciated the level of fantasy (e.g., sorcery, a magical artifact, a tentacled monster), Mamoa was perfect for this role and no fault of this movie was his, and Lang provided some excellent villainy.  If I wasn’t so busy feeling disappointed I would have probably enjoyed this more.  But again, this wasn’t bad.  It was kind of fun.  I don’t regret the price of admission.

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