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Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian (R)

conan-the-barbarian-movie-posterKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernal

Length: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Age Appropriate for: 16+. I suppose older teens who play bloody video games wouldn’t be fazed by any of this: Beheadings, bashed-in skulls, limbs sliced off, people cut in half, torture, topless women, implied sexual abuse, actor Jason Mamoa’s butt, a sex scene, lots of cursing, etc. But whether you want your teen to see all this is up to you; it is rated R, and I doubt many parents would want to sit through this much violence.

Conan the Barbarian’ is the bloodiest, dumbest movie of this summer so far. How does it cross over from undeniably awful into enjoyably terrible? Slowly — and with actor Jason Momoa’s abs leading the way.

By Roxana Hadadi

How easy is it to sum up “Conan the Barbarian”? So easy! Conan smash. Conan bash. Conan scores with a woman he verbally belittles and claims as his “property.” Yay, movies targeted to 18- to 34-year-old males!

This R-rated bloodbath, a remake of the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is so absurd and out of control that there’s no way to take it seriously as anything more than an opportunity to spawn a franchise, sell some toys and provide Jason Momoa (who is studly, I must admit) with his own summer blockbuster. Though both films are based on the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard, this version is significantly different than the ‘80s flick that made Schwarzenegger’s physique famous. Back then, Conan was a Cimmerian child sold into slavery after watching his parents killed in front of him; he grew to be a great warrior who avenged his parents’ death. In the Momoa version, Conan is still Cimmerian and still a child when he is orphaned, but he takes his fate into his own hands, spending time as a thief and a pirate before claiming the opportunity to kill Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), the warlord who slaughtered his village.

Oh, and while the Schwarzenegger version excelled in camp, especially goofy effects involving James Earl Jones as a villain who could turn into a giant snake, this Momoa recap is all about blood, all the time. From the first scene onward, there’s gloppy red stuff everywhere: Pouring out of Conan’s mother after his father cuts him out of her dying body; splattered all over a young Conan after he decapitates four enemy scouts who try to ambush his village; and dripping from his abs (seriously, those abs!) as he fights legions of Khalar Zym’s henchmen. Any way a person could be killed, they’re killed; any way a woman could be demeaned, they’re demeaned. “Conan the Barbarian” is clearly not meant for female audiences, even though Momoa has one of this summer’s most-hyped torsos (other main contender: Ryan Gosling in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”), and it’s impossible to watch if you’re actually expecting a real movie of any sort.

No, just go in looking forward to a ridiculous onslaught of unnecessary 3-D, endless battle scenes and eye-roll-worthy romantic development, and you’ll be fine. That’s all this “Conan the Barbarian” has to offer.

Things begin with narration from Morgan Freeman (for shame, sir!), who outlines how years ago, in an “age undreamed of,” a group of necromancers “enslaved the civilized world” with “power no mortal men should possess.” Only the barbarians, tribes and groups not associated with seemingly cultured society were able to fight against the necromancers, breaking the mask they used to bring back the dead and separating the pieces among themselves. (Sounds like the intro to “Lord of the Rings,” no? The styling, complete with numerous slow-motion scenes mimicking the battle between Sauron and Isildur over the One Ring, is pretty similar, too.)

Anyway, so a prophecy dictates that a bad guy in the future will aim to reconnect the mask and complete what the necromancers started, which comes true when Khalar Zym’s minions slaughter Conan’s mother — causing his father, Corin (Ron Perlman), to extract Conan out of her body — and start burning down village after village in their quest to find all the mask’s pieces. Corin has trained Conan (first played by young Leo Howard) to be cunning, speedy and strong, and he proves his fearlessness by darting in and out of an ambush on their home to reach his father. But when Conan can’t save Corin, and Khalar Zym’s creepy witch daughter Marique (a young Ivana Staneva) steals the sword his father made for him, Conan is ready for revenge.

Fast-forward 20 years later, and Khalar Zym and Marique (played as an adult by Rose McGowan) are still tearing up the countryside, but now they’re searching for a pureblood descendant of the original necromancers; her blood will be used to fill the mask, activate its powers and start hell on earth. At the same time, Conan (Momoa) is looking for them, and when his path crosses with Tamara (Rachel Nichols), the girl the bad guys may be looking for, both of their lives will change forever. Will he be rude and condescending to her? Yes! Will they fall in love anyway? Duh! Will Khalar Zym’s and Marique’s relationship have creepy incestuous overtones that add nothing to the story? Obviously! Will you regret spending your money and time on this film? Of course!

Just laugh at the film’s terribleness; it’s all you can do to stay sane. Though the story drags toward the end, when fake endings run rampant and action scenes with octopus-like monsters and zombies made out of sand go on too long, some of the film’s best moments come from sheer implausibility. The scene with young Conan slaughtering four adult warriors all by himself is totally disgusting, as is another when Conan sticks his finger in the hole he left in a man’s face after slicing off his nose, but somehow the crowds at a recent press screening cheered after each of them. It’s not good cinema, but at least it’s memorable?

Also memorable: Momoa’s bod, the rampant misogyny that litters the script (especially during Conan’s and Tamara’s improbable romance), and all the bloody deaths you could ever want. “Conan the Barbarian” is in no way a good movie, but it is marvelous in its awfulness — and little else.



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