As a warrior from the ancient land of Cimmeria, Conan the Barbarian secured his place in pop culture nearly 80 years ago in the heroic fantasies of pulp-fiction king Robert E Howard. As an encore, the sword-swinging Cimmerian went on to establish Arnold Schwarzenegger’s place in pop culture nearly 30 years ago, when the young Austrian bodybuilder played the title role in John Milius' booming, storming, militaristic take on the saga. You’d think Conan would deserve a rest and a haircut — and that barbarians might be out of season. Bah! Or as Conan himself might say, GRRRRROWWWRRR!
Borrowing some of the same loinwear he favored as a far more charismatic tribal warrior in HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jason Momoa is the all-new Conan in Conan the Barbarian 3D, a production that is itself a slave to its time. Or should I say, to our time: As directed by commercial- and music-video-trained Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), here’s a movie that’s simultaneously lavishly violent and numbing, visually ornate and undistinguished, epic and shallow, relentlessly noisy and tone-deaf, workmanlike and unfilling. And that’s no matter how happily go-to villain-player Stephen Lang (Avatar) pitches in to enliven the character of Conan’s power-mad evil nemesis, Khalar Zym. Conan has noble reason to loathe the scarfaced guy, since the warlord killed Conan?s father, an honorable Cimmerian leader and an expert sword-maker (played by Hellboy’s Ron Perlman), in front of the young son’s eyes, and now the grown man seeks revenge. But still, the mission seems more plotted by numbers than written from the heart. (Audiences are likely to miss Disney stripling Leo Howard, who plays the young Conan, once the kid is no longer in the picture; he’s got a fierce scowl, this child performer, and the scenes between him and Lang shoot off like little firecrackers.) Rose McGowan does interesting, perverse things with her eyeballs and lips as Khalar’s twisted, witchy daughter, but the team-written script doesn’t own up to the warped father-daughter relationship at which it coyly hints. Rachel Nichols (Star Trek) doesn’t do much that’s interesting at all as the feisty ”pureblood” maiden who becomes Conan’s fighting ally and (in one perfunctorily gauzy scene) his lover, but the fault is that of the generic female character, not Ms. Nichols, coached to flash eyes when vexed and scream when scared.
In other words, there’s something and nothing for everyone in Conan the Barbarian 3D, right down to the afterthought 3-D itself, which brings nothing to the experience except a ticket-price bump. C