“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women”, were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first words when asked about life as Conan the Barbarian nearly thirty years ago. Now after five years in developmental purgatory, Conan is back, but his agenda has changed to “No man should live in chains” as the noble barbarian frees the slaves. Yes, the usual Hollywood gloss gradually pastels a promising start into a series of busy shaky-cam exchanges of CGI blood, tired action clichés, and unnecessary 3-D.
I realize that I am making comparisons, and that they, and by they I mean the lucky number thirteen producers all stirring the pot (I think I may get a credit for attending opening night), are trying to start with a clean slate. But I grew up with Arnold, his scowl and ridiculous voice were already a natural part of his persona. The transition to Conan took about as much method training as putting on his tunic. Momoa, who I do love from Game of Thrones, scowls with such effort you’d think he’d trip over his bottom lip, and his voice, when doing the sinister thing, resembles Christian Bale’s Batman, only funnier. Females have digressed between films, as the warrior woman Valeria is replaced with a perpetually distressed Rachel Nichols. At least Rose McGowan has rebounded from Red Sonya.
None of this should be shocking, considering Director Marcus Nispel’s prior franchise revamps include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. The initial action sequences are fine with sure cuts and long exchanges enabling you to actually follow the action and combat staging. They gradually become lost in studio mandated guesswork- 3-D transferred from a film shot in 2-D- with cuts quick enough to slash even Stan Brakhage to ribbons.
At the end I felt much like I did following Marie Antoinette: After all that, I just wanted so see someone’s head cut off. Denied. But thanks to overdevelopment by the aforementioned thirteen assassins Conan probably did not really have a fighting chance. Now hear the lamentations of the fans!