With the current Hollywood trend of remakes, reboots and reimaginings, it should come as no surprise that the 1982 cinematic classic “Conan the Barbarian” would eventually be given the treatment. As a fan of the original – as much for its wonderful flaws as anything else – I went into the remake with a combination of low expectations and guarded optimism.
What I got was an ultraviolent and bloody fantasy epic with an overwrought and underdeveloped back story, clumsy performances and gratuitous special effects, 3D and otherwise.
In other words: perfect.
The plot – such as it is – revolves around an ancient mask that bestows great power on the wielder. In times gone by, the mask was destroyed and the pieces scattered among the barbarian tribes. The sinister Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, “Avatar”) searches out a Cimmerian village in his quest for the final piece of the mask and winds up massacring them all, leaving a young Conan (Leo Howard, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) to watch his father (Ron Perlman, TV’s “Sons of Anarchy”) die, but the youngster escapes.
Flash-forward to a now-grown Conan (Jason Momoa, TV’s “Game of Thrones”) still on a constant hunt for the man who killed his father and destroyed his village. When a familiar face makes an appearance, Conan finally knows who his opponent is – the most powerful man in the land. And then?
I’m going to be right up front about this – “Conan the Barbarian” is not a good movie. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed the crap out of it. While there’s no accounting for taste, I acknowledge the many, many problems here. The story is thin and the performances alternate between wooden and maniacal – the film often screeches to a halt when people, you know, talk.
But here’s the thing – Robert Howard’s “Conan” stories were pulp fiction. They were supposed to be populated with broad archetypes and gory violence. They were filled with good guys and bad guys and you knew which was which. This isn’t complex psychodrama here – it’s a movie about a guy whose primary response to any situation is to cleave it in two with a broadsword.
And that’s why I enjoyed this movie, as bad as it might be. Whether intentional or not, the filmmakers have created a true spiritual successor to the original movie. Like the original, the new “Conan” is huge and sprawling, filled with swords and blood and skulls and fire. Bad guys get killed by the score and there’s an occasional boob. It’s big, dumb, ridiculous fun. It’s nothing more and needs to be nothing more.
“Conan the Barbarian” simply is what it is. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
3 out of 5