Action, 90 Minutes, 2011
Being a big fan of the Schwarzenegger version I was happily looking forward to this. Swords, magic, monsters – you really can’t screw it up that much, right? Well, it turns out that you can try pretty damn hard to screw it up but that no… you really can’t screw it up all that much.
The movie started out great. Ron Perlman is one of my all-time-favorite underrated actors and is excellent as Conan’s battled-hardened father. Although not the smartest of scripts it really demonstrates his ability to move subtly through a role and bring something unexpected. Leo Howard, playing young Conan, was also excellent. His scenes were marked by a brooding strength and determination that were sadly lacking in the character’s adult incarnation.
The villains are workable but not particularly memorable or understandable and ultimately waste two good actors. There’s a magic mask that, if reassembled, can bring a dead sorceress back to life by letting her inhabit the body of another. But it’s purpose gets fuzzier as things move on and when, after the entire film, it’s finally revealed it ends up one of the lamest movie props ever conceived.
Once our hero reaches adulthood things start to slip. In some ways the movie made an admirable effort to bring itself closer to the source material. Conan is leader of a colorful band of thieves and bandits – a leader of men. In many ways he fits more into figure of Conan I imagined from Howard’s books than Schwarzenegger ever did. The problem is that Momoa just doesn’t seem to have the spark of the character… at all.
Conan is a deceptively complex character. He has a depth of understanding and a range of emotion that simply can’t come out in his speech. Jason Momoa unfortunately just couldn’t seem to capture this (which is sad because from past work he’s clearly capable). The script, which devolves into an entire collection of clichéd relationships, doesn’t help him much. As the movie moves forward there’s also more and more blatant continuity issues. A battle starts in the dead of night, but ends minutes later at the height of the day. People walk along barren, rocky shorelines to end up moments later deep within old-growth forests. The final battles are host to massive amounts of inexplicable architecture.
In short the movie starts incredibly strongly and ends incredibly weakly. What I said initially still holds however: try as the might they really couldn’t screw this up completely. There’s plenty of well-choreographed action, some great set-pieces and a decent monsters. So while there are many (many) missed opportunities this is still a Conan movie and sometimes that’s good enough.