Eat Slay Love

[Film] Conan the Barbarian

Helmed by serial turd polisher Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th), Conan the Barbarian is the latest reanimated corpse of a film franchise to be found lurching dead-eyed through the corridors of your local fleapit. Sure, this kind of unreconstructed sword and sandals nonsense might have been acceptable in the 80s, but what about now?

A reboot rather than a remake of the 1982 original, the plot, such as it is, traces Cimmerian warrior Conan’s origins right back to being ‘born on the battlefield’ – quite literally as it turns out, the onrushing hoards considerately taking a five minute timeout so Conan’s mum can drop a sprog mid-battle. Unfortunately a lack of hot towels in the vicinity and prospective father Ron Perlman’s questionable midwifery skills mean she’s soon Hovis.

Flash forward a few years and the teenage Conan is proving his mettle at Li’l Bastards Warrior Camp, beheading three intruders en route to taking victory in a primitive egg and spoon race. Rarely has a father radiated such pride. But before they can bro-down any further the village is attacked by Khala Zym (Stephen Lang) and his minions. Zym is in search of a mask which will help him resurrect his dead wife and rule the world for all eternity or something – seriously dude, move on and find somebody new, it’s what she’d want – and said mask happens to be lying around in a drawer underneath a copy of Cimmerian Norks in Ron’s workshop. Obviously he won’t let it go that easily, and Conan sees his father meet his maker by having a vat of molten steel poured over him. From this day forth Conan vows vengeance on his father’s killers under the ancient motto ‘he who smelt it dealt it.’

Forward again and the now adult Conan (Jason Momoa) is freelancing in barbarism: wandering the globe, fighting, carousing, sexing (no onan for Conan) and generally smirking his kohl-eyed way from one seemingly pointless fight to the next, until he rescues a Celtic slave lovely and then tries to stop Zym and his daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) staging a good old fashioned necromancing. And that’s pretty much it.

Problems? Where to begin? A simplistic or even nonsensical plot needn’t be an issue in an unashamedly lunk-headed actioner such as this, as long as it’s grafted onto some entertaining action sequences, engaging characters and a decent script. None of these things are present. A lot of water has passed under the cinematic bridge since the 80s, be it the kinetic fight sequences of The Matrix (the Wachowskis were attached to this project at one point), the visceral thrills of the Bourne franchise or the beautifully choreographed swordplay of 13 Assassins. The lumpen, repetitive slugfests on offer here really don’t cut it anymore, and no amount of jump-cutting or slo-mo shots of Momoa’s admittedly excellently conditioned hair swisssshing its way through battle can disguise the deeply uninventive fare on display. Yes, there was plenty of gore, but compared to the joyously innovative dismemberments seen in something like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, this was pretty thin gruel. It didn’t exactly help that the turgid colour palette – and the fact the film was seemingly shot during a solar eclipse – meant you had to squint like a Catholic schoolmaster in the boys’ changing room to tell what the hell was going on. Not that you’d much care.

The script. Hoo boy. To call the dialogue perfunctory would be to unduly credit the writers with the gift of conciseness. Apparently it took four of the fucks to script this, but I can only assume they spent most of their time taking it in turns to snort coke off Momoa’s ample bosom on the Lionsgate dollar. I accept that the character is a man of few words, but those that did fall from his mouth were completely unmemorable, as were those of the supporting cast. “I live, I love, I slay, I am content” was about as good as it got. I longed for some of the poetic put-downs heard in that other Momoa vehicle, Game of Thrones, but this was way down the dramatic food chain. And it was left to a laughably solemn voiceover from Morethan Freeman to fill in the plot holes and do the expository leg-work a more skilled director can handle (although on another boring technical note, the crappy sound editing meant a lot of the dialogue was drowned out. A blessing really).

As a leading man the Momoa sure has physical presence, but his wet-look hair and glistening torso meant he’d look more at home on stage with the Dreamboys than on a sound stage. And the jury remains out on his acting chops, most of his limited dialogue either being hurriedly barked or unintelligibly mumbled. But then none of the performers really had much chance to shine, with only McGowan making much impression at all, and all she really did was turd around like an extra in a Marilyn Manson video. It’s the role she was born to play.

And this isn’t just some blow-hard moan about how it doesn’t live up to the original. I’m no real fan, but at least that film had its own camp charm, and guilty LOLS aplenty at the expense of Arnie looking as confused by his own utterances as a cat looking at its own reflection in the mirror. But what it also had is a quotable script and a solid story arc. Its modern day cousin was just a blizzard of unconnected fight sequences in search of a cohesive storyline. Poorly made, lazy and at worst cynical, it assumes that nostalgia alone is enough to get people to cinema in their droves. In stark contrast to Conan’s brutally efficient kills, the whole thing was extremely poorly executed.



2 Responses to “Eat Slay Love”

  1. The film is dumb, hackneyed and, well, just plain bad – much like the 1982 original – but because it knows and makes fun of that, it plays for a smart and entertaining ride. Good Review! Check out my review when you can!

  2. Cheers. The ultimate crime was that it was so boring. I didn’t care one bit about his tedious ‘journey’. And he didn’t even punch a camel either.

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