Conan the Barbarian

Year: 2011
Production Co: Nu Image Films
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Marcus Nispel
Producer: Boaz Davidson
Writer: Thomas Dean Donnelly/Joshua Oppenheimer/Sean Hood/Robert E. Howard
Cast: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Bob Sapp

In 1982 when John Milius' brilliant original came out, I'm under no illusions Hollywood was more interested in artistic vision than box office, but the marketing demographers didn't quite have control of the comic book adaptation industry like they do today, and cool films about fantasy characters for adults occasionally slipped through.

So aside from the usual hand-wringing about the fact that they were remaking Conan the Barbarian at all, what I was most afraid of was that they'd tone it right down to play to 14 year olds. Instead I was pleasantly surprised – there's plenty of bloodshed, outrageous violence and more flesh than you've seen in any other comic films this year. When Conan and his friend rescue a caravan full of slave women and they all pile out of a wagon to reveal they're all 23, hot and topless, I smiled in appreciation for more than the obvious reason.

And before you roll your eyes at such misogyny, let me tell you if you like long-haired, muscular, dark-eyed men this film will be all out porn for you with Jason Momoa flexing and bulging across the screen.

Director Marcus Nispel (of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – is he going to turn into another John Moore and never do anything original?) made other good aesthetic choices. When Conan's nemesis Khalar (Lang) sends guys made out of sand after Conan throughout the ruins of an old temple, they're people in 'sand' suits rather than CGI, and it makes you realise the heightened sense of engagement that just isn't there when you know you're watching computer effects.

The basic premise is the same, but a lot of the motifs like the snakes and the deliberate pacing of the original have been jettisoned. A young buck determined to be a fierce warrior is growing up under the tough but loving direction of his father (Perlman), but after his village is attacked by a warlord who kills everyone, Conan grows into a (huge) man driven by vengeance.

In his travels he gets together with a temple babe (Nichols) whose pure blood can complete the spell the bad guy needs to consolidate his power with of a magical ancient mask, but it's all foil for Conan to slash, chop, kick and crush everything in his path to get his revenge. Every punch sounds like a cannon, every blow with a sword like a car crash.

One thing kept it from being a great movie. There was a lot of background noise and some accents, and the soundtrack was so loud I only understood about half of what was being said. Not that you need to catch every word – the action tells you most of what you need to know and it would have been much more of a problem in a David Mamet or Robert Altman script.

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