“Conan the Barbarian,” written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood and Robert E. Howard (Conan character), directed by Marcus Nispel, 113 minutes, rated R.
“Conan the Barbarian,” Marcus Nispel’s reboot of Robert E. Howard’s character made popular by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982, presents a world of male chauvinism rivaled only by professional wrestling and “Jersey Shore.”
It’s offensive, really, to our comparatively enlightened and progressive sensibilities in 2011. But that’s the point of “Conan,” right?
The film welcomes audiences to Cimmeria, a barbarian village in a world ruled by swords and sorcery, where grunts and war cries are about as sophisticated as conversation gets. During battle, a Cimmerian woman gives birth to a warrior prodigy, dying in the process. It’s bloody and disgusting, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
The child’s name is Conan, and even as a young adult he is a fearless, ambitious and arrogant fighter. Under the guidance of his father, Corin (Ron Perlman, no surprises there), young Conan learns what it takes to be a real man and the secrets to forging steel. After all, it’s what a Cimmerian lives by.
His life lessons are cut short when a tyrant named Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) effortlessly overpowers Cimmeria like an anthill in his quest to become a god, killing all the barbarians and leaving Conan a warrior without a tribe.
Conan (Jason Momoa) grows up in the world’s criminal underbelly, fighting for good by freeing slaves and prisoners from their captors. But he carries a desire for revenge every step of the way. It’s only when Conan crosses paths with Tamara (Augusta-native Rachel Nichols, a perfect damsel), a pure-blood sought for Zym’s occult ceremony, that his dream becomes tangible.
“Conan the Barbarian,” a movie where a man’s worth is measured by his bicep and women are treated as objects, is so out of place in 2011 that it’s a wonder it even got funded.
Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, and investors likely saw some appeal in the movie’s Red Bull-inspired pacing. Like the Cimmerians themselves, “Conan” lives and dies by the sword, hardly taking a breath between action scenes.
With such rapid-fire sword fights and battle sequences, there comes the sacrifice of character development. But, when you’re dealing with such simple, dare I say two-dimensional characters, it’s almost more merciful to keep the dialogue to a minimum.
Unlike so many blockbusters today, “Conan” accepts its simplicity, and with that it also accepts its stupidity. It’s less about the complexities of war or the conflicts that come with clashing philosophies, as it is about tapping into some raw, animalistic instinct that dwells deep in the corner of everyone’s mind. Nispel gets that.
Its outright rejection of social progression is the noose that will ultimately hang “Conan” for most audiences. In that, however, there’s a boldness and a devotion to the pulp stories of Robert E. Howard that might just win some over.
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