20 August 2011

Conan the Barbarian

Jason Momoa portrays Conan in a scene from "Conan the Barbarian."
I'm trying hard not to come off as a broken record, but 3D at the movies needs to go away. And it needs to go away yesterday.

"Conan the Barbarian" surpasses last year's "Clash of the Titans" for the worst use of 3D I've seen. Director Marcus Nispel has a hard enough time presenting a coherent action scene in two dimensions; add a third and what a mess we have on our hands.

And it's not just in the action scenes, of which there are many. The use of 3D—which was added in post-production via computers—is a constant distraction. A fantasy film must draw the audience into its world; an unrelenting reminder that you're watching a movie might as well be its death knell.

Beneath this nonsense, there actually is a kind of entertaining movie, in a pulpy, B-movie sort of way.

The Conan character originated in the 1930s in the stories of Robert E. Howard. Most know him from a pair of early '80s movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Conan the Barbarian," 1982, "Conan the Destroyer," 1984). This new movie, while not a direct remake, has a similar feel, though Nispel, whose career has taken him from directing commercials and music videos to remakes for the big screen ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," 2003, "Friday the 13th," 2009), ramps up the violence. Spurting blood, accompanied by wet, slurpy sound effects, is the most common sight in the fight scenes.

Jason Momoa takes on the role of Conan, a deadly warrior roaming the continent of Hyboria. The words he lives by: "I live, I love, I slay, and I am content." Only he's not. There is a purpose to this travels: He's searching for Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), the bandit who led a raid on Conan's village when he was a boy, killing everyone, including Conan's father (Ron Perlman).

Zym, with help from his daughter (Rose McGowan), a mysterious witch, is looking for the pieces of a mask that will give him the power to conquer kingdoms. Something about bringing his wife back from the dead, too—I think. He also needs the blood of Tamara (Rachel Nichols), a virtuous monk, to make it work.

Momoa is a physical specimen and a better actor than Schwarzenegger. But he doesn't  command the screen the way Arnold did, or even the way he did earlier this year in a similar role on the HBO series "Game of Thrones." Still, he is good enough for this material, and he clearly is having a blast. Attitude is important in a movie like this.

Nichols never comes off as anything other than bored, causing the romantic sparks that ignite between Tamara and Conan to feel forced.

On the bad guys' side, Lang and McGowan appear to be having a contest to see who can out-camp the other, Lang with his over-the-top accent and line readings, McGowan with her exotic costumes and makeup. They come at it with the kind of full-bodied gusto this movie needs.

Special effects generally are solid; Conan's fight against monsters made of sand is a standout scene. The fight choreography also is topnotch, even if the furious cutting of Nispel and editor Ken Blackwell and the 3D conversion do their best to obscure it.

This "Conan" is a completely disposable, mindless movie that's easy to pick apart. I started down that route until my long-held soft spot for this kind of swords-and-sorcery fantasy took over. There is fun to be had here—not as much as there could be, but it kept me entertained, faults and all.

Greg's Grade: C

(Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity. 112 minutes.)

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