The Herald Bulletin

August 18, 2011

'Conan' savage but missing substance

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — “Conan the Barbarian” swings a mighty, entertaining sword but disappoints in its lack of substance between the battles.

BACKGROUND: This Marcus Nispel film is not a remake of the hugely popular and campy 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger film or its sequel “Conan the Destroyer.”

Instead, Nispel’s film takes a more serious path. Backed by Lionsgate, Nispel (“Pathfinder”) choose to forge his version in the spirit of the 1930s pulp magazine character created by the father of sword and sorcery, Robert E. Howard, and the subsequent eight decades worth of comics, stories and images based on the writer’s vision.

Howard’s Conan is a hero born on the battlefields of Cimmeria, a fictional, fantasy land of fearsome barbarians during the Hyborian Age. He is a formidable combatant, physically imposing and cunning.

With this version of Conan in mind, Jason Momoa (“Stargate: Atlantis”) was selected to play the barbarian after wowing the film’s casting director during an audition for “Game of Thrones.” The film also boasts several other notable actors, including the lovely Rose McGowan as the not-so-lovely Marique and feisty Rachel Nichols as Tamara, Conan’s love interest. Fantasy film mainstay Ron Perlman plays Conan’s father, and noted stage actor Stephen Lang portrays villain Khalar Zym.

SYNOPSIS: Conan the Cimmerian embarks on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and slaughter of his village. During his bloody adventures, he becomes entangled in a battle that will determine the fate the world and bring him closer to completing his mission.

THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE UGLY: Those looking for some very “stabby” action will certainly delight in “Conan.” The film is one long sequence of beautifully choreographed and artfully filmed battles. Swordplay is breathtaking and brutal. And no expense was spared on fake blood.

But when the action stops, the film’s flaws are apparent. Dialogue is not elegant or even important. These quiet times seem only to exist to allow the actors and viewers to catch their breath between one fight and the next.

The plot is simple enough to follow but too simplistic to get excited about. This often happens when revenge is the character’s only motivation.

Despite the thin storyline, Momoa does not disappoint. He commands the screen every time his 6-foot-4 frame fills it, wields one heck of a wicked sword and clearly demonstrates he has a bright future in the action genre. That he’s barely clothed for a majority of the film (and not clothed at all in some of it) is a bonus for ladies accompanying their men to the flick.

Momoa’s excellent performance is why the film ultimately disappoints. He deserved more from the cast and script.

He most certainly deserved a more worthy adversary. There is little intimidating about Lang’s Khalar Zym. And in the end, he is too easily vanquished.

If McGowan’s Marique had been fleshed out more, she could have been an interesting opponent. There are hints to a subplot in that vein that may be on the cutting room floor. While her character remained superficial, McGowan does deserve credit for agreeing to a role that is far from her norm.

THE FINAL SCORE: “Conan the Barbarian” is at its best when Momoa is hacking and slashing his way through a wave of enemies, which is often. But viewers shouldn’t expect much more from the mayhem. Beautifully crafted battles and action sequences will have to be enough.

EXTRAS: None to speak of.

"Conan" has a run time of 112 minutes and is rated R.