Jason Momoa has a lot to live up to because when it comes to action films, there are no bigger shoes to fill than Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s. There’s something about Arnie that’s so entertaining that it almost doesn’t matter what film he’s in, it’ll always be watchable. Sadly Momoa proves a poor substitute for the Austrian Oak in this forgettable reboot of 1982’s Conan The Barbarian.
Inexplicably narrated by Morgan Freeman, it starts well, with Conan’s birth on the battlefield – the first shot of a baby in the womb which is suddenly sliced open by a stray sword and lifted triumphantly aloft by his warrior chieftain father is gloriously over the top and raises expectations for the film to come. The following scenes with Conan as a boy, outstripping his rivals in a coming-of-age trial and subsequently defeating four invading marauders single-handed is exciting and sets the stage for a herculean adult barbarian.
It’s just a shame that when it gets going, it quickly descends into a sub-standard movie version of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Conan embarking on a long and boring quest to track down his father’s killer before he enslaves humanity. It’s almost impossible to describe a character without talking about their physical attributes and they’re so forgettable you’ll struggle to remember their names.
There’s Artus (Nonzo Anozie), a burly sidekick whose job is to captain Conan’s ship when he’s not aboard, laugh heartily and indulge in some manly arm-wrestling; a whiny thief with an eye-patch (whose name I have actually forgotten) who’s nothing but irritating and serves as a handy plot device an hour after we meet him. Then there’s the damsel in distress, Tamara (Rachel Nichols) who sounds like she’s just stepped off the set of Clueless. She’s a monk but is oddly proficient at stabbing people and has as much personality as a plastic spoon.
The villains are a little better. Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang – last seen with biceps that looked like veined watermelons in Avatar) makes a credible villain, all scars, sinew and spite. Better yet is Rose McGowan as his witchy daughter Marique who comes complete with a dodgy haircut and Freddy Krueger claws. But she’s never given anything interesting to do – conjuring a load of dull CGI enhanced back-flipping sand-people for Conan to fight is as much as she can manage.
There’s nothing here to engage with. Conan traipses from one location to the next with nothing but an establishing shot and a subtitle to indicate where he is. This is pointless because everywhere looks the same – a ubiquitous sand-blasted backdrop which is so common in films of this ilk they probably come in pre-packaged flat packs. This is the fantastic world of Hyboria – it shouldn’t look like it was assembled from leftover props from Spartacus: Blood And Sand.
Fight scenes are perfunctory and boring – Conan slashes his way through hordes of nameless warriors with little choreographic imagination. Even a set piece with a tentacled sea monster is predictable and overdoses on the CGI. Additionally, Conan is about 20 minutes too long, and starts dragging its heels which it should be kicking ass. There’s no climax, no sense of achievement, no drama and no fun.
When a Cimmerian feels thirst it is the thirst for blood, when he feels cold it is the cold edge of steel and when he’s boring and pointless, he’s Conan the bloody Barbarian.