a critiQal film review Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Plot: A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for a fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan (Momoa) realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nation of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.

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It seems that while we wait for Schwarzenegger to return to the big screen in a starring role in The Last Stand (2013), there will be a couple of reminders to keep us going. Before the remake Total Recall (2012) hits theaters this summer, there’s another Schwarzenegger film remake that’s already arrived on DVD: Conan the Barbarian.

Panned by critics during it’s theatrical release, it was hailed as a stinker. But, since I don’t always agree with the critics (see Spider-Man (2002)), I figured I’d give this remake a shot anyway. Would Jason Momoa have a bright career ahead of him as the new Schwarzenegger, or did Conan the Barbarian just help to showcase how much he can’t fill Schwarzenegger’s shoes?

Momoa, who apparently has starred in shows like “Stargate: Atlantis”, takes to the big screen in a starring role for the first time in Conan the Barbarian, and does a ridiculous job with his dialogue (what there is of it). Conan is portrayed as the strong silent type for a reason, and that’s evident every time Momoa opens his mouth. Delivering every line stone-faced and without a hint of emotion, he rushes through his lines like he’s trying to get them over with as fast as he can.

He’s completely upstaged by the younger version of Conan, played by Leo Howard, who appears in the beginning of the film. During his brief turn as Conan, Howard makes the kid likable and strong-willed, and shows more emotion in those few sequences than Momoa can muster up for the entire remainder of the film.

Stephen Lang, the villain of this pic, despite having been on-screen before (in monster hit Avatar (2009), for example), seems to take his cues from Momoa’s wooden delivery and really doesn’t come off as evil at all. He’s a bit crazy, but he doesn’t exude evil that a villain in a pic like this needs to do.

Surprisingly, the two lead male actors are both outdone by their female companions. Rose McGowan, as the evil daughter of Lang, does exude evil as she traipses around with a frightening-looking do while doing her best Freddy Krueger imitation with a hand full of knives. Even though barely recognizable, she does a solid job with her role, and her character seems much more evil than her character’s father.

Rachel Nichols, on the side of good in this battle, also outdoes her co-hort Conan, and most of the entertainment of the film comes in watching her take on baddies with her limited sword-fighting capabilities. The camera lingers on her, and the viewers will too, cheering her on as she fights for her life.

While it’s odd the male characters are so overshadowed by their female counterparts, it’s the fight sequences that should get them back in the game, right? Wrong. Thanks to too many quick camera takes, the fighting is, for the most part, rather hard to follow, even when it’s just one-on-one. Instead, the viewer is treated to quick flashes of swords clashing together and then the camera flashes to another angle, creating fight sequence after fight sequence that seem muddled and confusing.

All in all, Conan the Barbarian isn’t at all what we were expecting…and that’s not good, in this case. After all, all we were looking for in this film was some halfway decent acting by the muscle-bound hero and his villainous counterpart, with lots of exciting swordplay along the way. Instead, we got wooden acting and muddled confusion during the swordfights.

Sure, it’s nice to see the females outdoing the males, but in this case, it just serves to highlight how much the main actors aren’t holding our attention. Skip this Conan the Barbarian and watch the original instead, just to see if you can capture a moment where Schwarzenegger displays some of that likable tough guy attitude he became so well known for.

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