Conan the Barbarian is yet another in a series of disappointing remakes from director Marcus Nispel.
As a director, Marcus Nispel’s oeuvre, comprised primarily of abysmal remakes (e.g., Friday the 13th, Pathfinder, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), doesn’t inspire confidence. His latest, another remake/re-adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, won’t do anything to repair his reputation as a director ignorant, purposefully or not, of the skills necessary to craft a minimally competent, watchable film.
What Nispel lacks in craft and competency, however, he more than makes up through a seemingly endless, ultimately numbing series of action scenes crammed with random dismemberment, sporadic decapitations and bucketsful of unconvincing CG blood (in non-glorious 3D no less).
With Morgan Freeman reading a confusing history of an ancient, mythical Hyborian Age, Conan the Barbarian starts at the literal beginning of the title character: He’s “battle-born,” torn from his dying mother’s womb by her warrior-leader husband, Corin (Ron Perlman), moments before she expires from a sword wound. She lives just long enough to give Conan his name. As Corin holds his blood- and placenta-covered infant son, Conan the Barbarian jumps forward 12-14 years to follow a now teen Conan (Leo Howard).
Saving the best for first, Nispel shows teen Conan engaging in parkour-inspired acrobatics around his village before joining a group of young men in a foot race around and through the mountains. Corin will reward the winner with the opportunity to join the village’s warriors. Conan wins, of course, but not before putting his parkour abilities to use against a surprise attack of neighboring warriors, slaughtering them easily. Unfortunately for Conan, Corin holds one of several magically empowered bone shards that, when combined into an uncomfortable looking helmet-mask, will give the owner, godlike powers of some kind. A minor tyrant, Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), attacks the village, slaughtering dozens, sending a newly orphaned Conan on a meandering, 20-year journey that eventually culminates in a sword-fight to the death.
Before we get to the obligatory sword-fight to the death, Nispel introduces an adult Conan (Jason Momoa) and his indistinguishable band of barbarian sidekicks attacking a slave caravan, partly out of an ethical code of some kind, but more, apparently, for the orgy with topless ex-slaves that Conan and his men accept as their just reward. Nispel unwisely sets aside Conan’s morally dubious jaunts into hedonism for the story proper: Over the last twenty years, Khalar Zym and his witch-daughter, Marique (Rose McGowan, practically unrecognizable), have been searching for a so-called Pureblood, Tamara (Rachel Nichols). Tamara holds the key (in her blood, of course) to activating the bone-shard helmet-mask and resurrecting Khalar-Zym’s late wife, a witch like their daughter.
As Conan, Jason Momoa has the necessary physicality and athleticism for the role, but falls noticeably short when he’s not hacking-and-slashing to growl cringe-inducing lines. Discredit also goes to Nispel who, on the evidence of Conan the Barbarian and every previous film, has shown little facility in directing actors whatever the negligible demands of the genre in question. Still, Momoa deserves some credit for handling most of his own demanding stunts, even if his efforts are in service to a woefully inept screenplay and a director uninterested in anything except the next gore-drenched set piece.
Conan the Barbarian certainly delivers on its R-rated promise, but the repetition of one hack-and-slash scene after another, turns the film into a sensory-pummeling slog.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.