These reviews are filled to the brim with the dreaded spoilers!
I mean ...why would you read a lengthy review if you wanted to avoid spoilers? Just saying.

REVIEW: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

This movie will always hold a special place in my heart, for the events leading up to seeing it will go down as one of the manliest afternoons we've ever lived.

It was the afternoon my best friend passed his first (and as far as I know, only) kidney stone. I'll spare you most of the details but to put it simply, it was like watching a movie unfold over a couple of hours. The slow build-up as we get together for a normal day of hanging out before he starts to slowly realize something isn't right; the call to action as we - for the sake of caution - rush to the hospital; and the powerful climax as he managed to pass the stone in the waiting area bathroom. He then celebrated by going with us to the movie almost immediately after, and ordering a large popcorn and soda when we got there. Fucking awesome.

There was also a sub-plot where we called our other friend to let them know not to pick us up at his place, but at the emergency room, and forgot to mention why. That lead to a truly entertaining misunderstanding, let me tell you.

True story: I wrote this intro brand-new and special for the repost of this review mostly because I needed to fill the space before the jump, but to be honest the only reason I'm writing about this is because the events of that day were a hell of a lot more memorable than the movie.

nobody has ever made this joke before

I'm pretty sure I saw bits of it when I was younger, but the 1982 Conan isn't a movie I really watched growing up, and didn't really bother to until some time in college. It's just another one of those "my parents wouldn't let me and my friends parents either wouldn't let them or none of us had heard about it before" movies. Therefore, it's not something I hold close to my chest, nostalgia goggles firmly fixed to my face, enraged this 80's classic was being remade. (Was anyone mad about this being remade? I was just guessing because that's what usually happens.)

But of all the remakes to hit the screen lately, Conan the Barbarian feels like a story that could actually use an update, at least as a way to introduce a generation accustomed to ... I'm not going to say "better" special effects but, like, "modern" special effects? Maybe? It's a way to push this character on a new audience used to faster editing and big monsters which aren't puppets.

Hey, a new action franchise with big name recognition is never a bad idea to a studio, especially with the popularity of graphically violent sword-swinging tv series Spartacus and Game of Thrones it's easy to see why the one of the most popular slayer-of-monsters and deflowerer-of-virgins would be an appealing conquest.

I have to admit, I was concerned that the latest story of this Barbarian called Conan would pad its duration with, shall we say, not-so-subtle nods to its predecessors. That it would feature Schwarzenegger in cameo, or reference various quotable lines, props or situations here and there as an aside to the audience ... one which says, "Yup! We're fully aware this happened already, see how aware of it we are? Remember this line someone wrote twenty-five years ago? Here it is again!"

It's this sort of wink to the camera that spoils remakes or re-imaginings of stories. The audience is aware something came before, whether or not they've seen it. As fun as they may be (some of the time) it only really serves to distract from the story, induce a small chuckle or groan, depending on the person. There's a cinematic rule that goes something like, "never mention a good movie in your shitty movie, because the audience will spend the rest of the time thinking about how they could be watching that instead" that I think applies doubly to all references to the remakes own history. As luck would have it, this shiny new Conan doesn't do any of that.

because nobody needs to see that

So, hey, let's talk about the female lead.

Action movies often toss in a female lead, and beyond the obvious sexy-outfit-love-interest reasons she can often play an equivalent to the male hero, someone able to hold her own in a fight without needing to be rescued or protected, keep up with the action and keep the dude on his toes as her effortless defeat of goons is on-par, if not even a little more effective than the guy's efforts. This one is called Tamara, a monk with a super secret past - even to her - whose very blood plays an integral part to an evil warlord's Evil Plan of Ultimate Evil.

Tamara starts out being a surprisingly decent character, given the role she's playing. Her first meeting with Conan is during a chase in a horse-drawn cart, he believing her cart contains the aforementioned warlord he's sworn to kill. After he breaks through the ceiling, without hesitating she grabs him the same way he's grabbed her, both with daggers at the ready. Immediately after she braves the exterior of the cart to grab the reigns of the horses who have been running wild for a bit and even takes the effort to separate the cart behind her to kill one of her pursuers. Like you probably should in that situation.

"Holy crap," I whispered, "she's going to be able to hold her own in this." I can't put into words how pleased I was to learn this character wasn't going to be the helpless damsel Conan must rescue and take to bed! This feeling would soon pass as she swiftly drops off into the bound woman calling out for help, which would only serve to be distracting for the guy, I think.

But let's talk a moment about the titular Conan. The post-movie discussion with my group of friends sounded a chorus of, "I feel so manly all of a sudden!" and that's not too far from the truth. The excess testosterone from each of Jason Momoa's grunts of sword-swinging might gave me cause to start mimicking his stabs unconsciously with my hands. He's covered in kick-ass scars from molten steel in his childhood efforts to save his father from being melted to death. The only way it could have been more bad-ass is if he held aloft his magic sword and said, "By the power of Greyskull!"


The over-arching plot is one of a warlord determined to resurrect his demon wife or something with a mask of evil while Conan runs about seeking revenge but being really clever about it, though I never felt any sense of urgency during any of Conan's spur-of-the-moment clever plans, because we never get a minute to feel concern over the situation, only wondering how he's going to turn the tables and being awestruck over the resulting mayhem.

It's one of those stories that is largely forgettable amidst the blood and fighting but I have to say there's an undeniable amount of thought that went into the world and the story surrounding the evil plan of evil, though it seems to be taking a back seat to Conan trying to find the evil lair and all of his friends talking about how cool Conan is. I could discuss at length some of the more awkward fight blocking and the speedy decline of the female lead'x awesomeness or even the few logic bombs that go off but it's really not worth spending too much time breaking down. It's fun and forgettable and a sequel would probably be iffy at best, story-wise.

But it does play the part of an origin story; introducing a that generation to the character and the world he inhabits, and little more. I'm made to understand it much more closely resembles the stories told in the books he originated in than the previous adventures, so, like, that's something to be celebrated, at least. Yay! More of that!

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