As the summer winds to a close, it’s time to reflect back on what we’ve seen over the past three and a half months. We’ve seen many big budget action films released, including no less than four superhero movies. There have been some disappointments (Cowboys & Aliens), but there have also been those that have exceeded expectations (Captain America: The First Avenger). Now, with the most exciting time of the cinematic year ending, we have one last high profile film to see, Conan the Barbarian, and it’s a turd, easily one of the worst of the bunch, rising only above Green Lantern. It’s been many years since I’ve seen the original film and its sequel, so it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but even with only a vague recollection of those two movies, I think it’s safe to say this reimagining makes those look like Shakespearean classics.
The film begins with some gobbledygook about sacrifices and ancient masks that can make a mortal a god. And that’s where it lost me. Conan the Barbarian is such an incomprehensible mess, it manages to confuse before anything actually happens. Before you know it, you’re watching Conan being born in the midst of battle before it flashes forward to the future not once, but twice, and takes our hero on a journey to at least half a dozen different locales in a quest for revenge.
That’s about as specific as I can get when it comes to the story. After watching, I challenge anyone to do better. An inability to follow what’s going on doesn’t stop at the story, however. It translates to the action scenes. The shaky camera, combined with the frenzied editing and darkened screen, compliments of a worthless 3D effect, keep the visuals murky and at a far too accelerated pace. Most of these action scenes are arbitrary in nature and mean very little to the story, though they’re all very violent and one in particular ends with about a dozen topless women standing around, so there’s that.
Conan the Barbarian is a rare anomaly, in that I honestly couldn’t tell whether or not I was supposed to be taking it seriously because there are plenty of laughs to be had, like one hilarious scene where Conan sticks his finger inside the wound of a man’s chopped off nose, which causes a good amount of snot to drip out. Whether that was supposed to be funny or not is debatable. What isn’t, however, are the hearty laughs provided by the narration from Morgan Freeman (which has become a joke unto itself in recent years) and the amusingly sexist dialogue, where Conan bosses his female companion around (“Woman! Come here!”) and accuses her of looking like a harlot, which would be offensive if the movie weren’t so ridiculous.
When you aren’t laughing at it, though, the dialogue (or more generally, the movie itself) is unbearable. It’s shoddily made, with one of the more obvious inconsistencies in recent memory (night turns to day in a matter of seconds), and the acting is uniformly bland. Jason Momoa, who plays the titular character, gives one of the most wooden performances of the year. Bearing a grimace and speaking in a deep voice does not a performance make. I would say his acting coach forgot to tell him that, but I find it unlikely he has ever had one.
Conan the Barbarian thinks it’s way more epic than it really is, but it’s nothing more than a hack and slash video game that you can’t play, and just as shallow as one too. It’s bloody and gruesome and its level of violence is matched only by its stupidity. And it is pretty violent.
Conan the Barbarian receives 1.5/5