The Dog Days of Summer aren't just a reflection of miserable weather trends. August increasingly has become Hollywood's dumping ground for its summer movie also-rans.
And so it goes with Conan the Barbarian, a futile attempt at resurrecting Conan the Barbarian the film series, which began with Conan the Barbarian in 1982 and continued with Conan the Destroyer in 1984.
Conan the reboot, like its predecessors, is based on a series of short stories by writer Robert E. Howard in the 1930s. Part origin story and part adventure, the R-rated fantasy film opens with a pregnant woman mortally wounded during a violent skirmish with an invading horde. The woman manages to live just long enough to give birth to a son she names Conan. As the movie reminds us -- in the event we're daft or otherwise disengaged -- Conan was "battle born." Years later an evil marauder Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) massacres Conan's village and kills his father, for which the barbaric teen vows revenge. Leap forward a decade-plus and Conan is a grown man and ferocious slayer of evildoers, who is still hunting for Khalar.
Khalar, meanwhile, has been busy searching for a pure-blood woman from an ancient line of necromancers, who is the missing component in his plan to resurrect his dead sorceress wife and transform into a god. Khalar and his equally evil sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) hunt down the pure blood, Tamara (Rachel Nichols). Thus the script offers Conan the bonus of personal revenge by slaying Khalar and heroics by saving Tamara and the world.
Marcus Nispel directed this disaster, which should be a significant initial indicator of its quality. Nispel is also responsible for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th updates. His behind-the-camera skills appear to be de-evolving as he bungles his way through this and fails to stage even one memorable battle scene, even though there are countless. At least half of Conan the Barbarian's small budget appears to have been used on bags of fake blood. If a sword comes near a body, expect liquid red to pour across the screen -- and in 3-D no less -- all of which grows tiresome and repetitive. This is violence "bored nauseam."
How does a Conan the Barbarian update make you yearn for the subtleties of the original?
Perhaps in the same way that the new Conan the Barbarian makes for a bigger appreciation for the actor who originally swung the hero's sword.
The 1982 version gave us Arnold Schwarzenegger -- at that point a champion body builder and nascent actor with a thick Austrian accent and English yet to be determined -- and it used to be unthinkable of an actor struggling to fill those barbaric sandals. Jason Momoa manages. The tall, muscular model-turned-actor was memorable during his recent and brief run as a barbarian king on HBO's excellent Game of Thrones -- "brief" being key. When Momoa is turned loose as Conan, the actor's lack of charisma is pronounced; perhaps a two on the Steven Seagal appeal scale. Lines such as "I live, I love, I slay, and I'm content" don't help the actor's cause. Momoa could have a film future as villainous henchman, provided he's asked to do nothing more than look tough and speak little.
McGowan looks like a fangirl in a budget-crunched costume at San Diego's Comic-Con and her acting isn't much better. Lang, nearly unrecognizable from his best-known role as the military villain in Avatar, emerges the least-scathed from this embarrassing wreck, a film so creatively exhausted and exhausting it uses Morgan Freeman as narrator. (At least Freeman had the good sense not to appear in the movie.)
Other than a profit-driven motive, the only reason the new Conan the Barbarian should exist is to technologically expand on the nearly 30-year-old original Conan -- an eternity when it comes to special effects and film production. But the reboot fails in this endeavor too, with unconvincing CGI of villages and towns designed to expand the scope of the movie, and what appears to be leftover sets from other sword-and-sandal productions meant to keep film costs down.
Conan the Barbarian is truly a hack-and-slash film: directed by a hack working with a slashed budget. The only thing more barbaric than this would be to see a number in its title.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN
Directed by Marcus Nispel. Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, based on the Robert E. Howard novels. A Lionsgate release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality, and nudity. Running time: 1:08 minutes.
Critic's rating: *
Conan Jason Momoa
Tamara Rachel Nichols
Khalar Zym Stephen Lang
***** Outstanding; **** Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.