Conan the Barbarian

I like Conan the Barbarian. I subscribe to the comics, I fondly recall the Schwarzenegger film, and I love the Frank Frazetta illustrations. I'm not a hard-core fan, though. I haven't read the original Robert E. Howard texts. Still, I like Conan.

The new Conan movie had almost all the right pieces in place for me to love it. 


Jason Momoa is a much better Conan than Arnold was. Pretty much all the actors were solid, and Leo Howard was wonderful as young Conan. The movie's R-rating allowed for the barbaric flavor of Robert E. Howard's Hyborian age to be unflinchingly depicted (a PG- or PG-13-rated "Conan" movie would be silly), and the setting was realized with plenty of gorgeous scenery.

So far, so good.

And then the plot summary goes like this: "My name is Conan of Cimmeria. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

We've already seen that movie so many times that the best execution of the You Killed My Father trope is the one that hangs a lantern on it, and makes it a motivation for a side character. It's just not worthy of the hero's quest anymore, even if the bad guy is out to enslave the world with dark magic. It renders the entire film predictable, and from there it's only a short step to boring.

That short step is taken in a truly pedestrian manner with shaky-cam. In the comic-books we get to see the footwork behind Conan being awesome. In the movie we have to puzzle it out based on who is left standing at the end of the fight. Sure, there were a couple of moments where the director, the cameraman, the fight choreographer, the editor, and Jason Momoa struck a bargain and gave us an iconic Conan move, but it wasn't enough. 

If I could have had more Awesome Conan With A Sword moments I might have forgiven the railroad plot, the hyper-expositional narrative at the beginning, and the moments where the pacing was a little off. Shaky-cam in a film like this is not just a nail in the coffin. It's also the first handful of dirt, and probably the cause-of-death for the corpse. 

Conan the Barbarian comes in at #21 for me this year. Yes, that means I liked The Smurfs better, but down there below the Threshold of Disappointment it doesn't matter much.

While I'm whining, Conan's haircut was wrong. Give us long black hair and shaggy, sword-cut bangs, and any grimacing muscle-man will look like Conan the Barbarian. Skip the bangs in favor of something more fashionable and your sword-swinger is indistinguishable from every other be-pectoraled, hack-and-slayer in the fantasy genre.

Especially if you don't let him swear by Crom even one single time.