Monday, 7 January 2013

Conan the Barbarian – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Conan the Barbarian (showing on Netflix UK, 112 mins), directed by Marcus Nispel, is a disappointment, albeit a more or less watchable one. There’s the seed of two potentially successful films in it, a tough, adult heroic fantasy, or a Pirates of the Caribbeanesque family romp, but in the end it’s neither: too silly and slight for adults, too nude and gory for children. One wishes it had been made a year or two later, so that it could have taken a lead from Game of Thrones.

It feels like Superman Returns, a palimpsest on which earlier, unmade versions have left their mark, leaving a meandering story that makes little sense: would the boy Conan we see at the beginning of this film, already a focused, deadly killer, really have left it twelve years without seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of a mad villain? All grown up, it’s only a chance meeting in a tavern that reminds him of his revenge quest!

One feels for Jason Momoa, since, silly quibbles over eye colour or hairstyles aside, he is the perfect, definitive Conan: he’s fast, strong and intense, taking a savage glee in battle and a shameless delight in the female form. It's a terrible shame to hear that Arnold Schwarzenegger is now planning to snatch the role back, Jay Leno-style. Much as I enjoyed his pair of Conan movies on their own merits, he's better suited to playing Groo. Momoa should feel aggrieved, having done such good work here.

Shame the film doesn’t quite match his performance or tone. Conan is phallus unleashed; you don’t soundtrack that with pan pipes and orchestra sweeps! Not as bad as I feared, but not as good as I had hoped (at least before trailers or advance reviews were out), it's not a film I expect to watch a second time.

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