Why Conan The Barbarian (2011) is Kinda Awesome

Title“He lives, he loves, he slays, and I am content”

Generally speaking, remakes tend to have a lot of negativity attached to them from the get go, and, although Hollywood keeps on pumping them out, never really seem to do that well. This is particularly true for classics and cult classics, as the die hard fans of the original love to hate on anything that looks to rehash their favourites. There are, of course, some notable exceptions, such as the recent Star Trek reboot, but even though that achieved global success at the box office and has introduced the next generation (hah, I made a funny) to the awesome that is the voyages of the starship Enterprise, it still drew a lot of harsh criticism and negativity from a considerable number of the franchises fans.

It’s no surprise, then, that the reboot of the most infamous Barbarian in all of Hyboria immediately garnered an incredible amount of negativity from the moment it was announced. Schwarzenegger’s Conan is the very definition of cult classic, with it’s die hard followers, and multiple layers of cheesy awesome, and so the 2011 reboot had a veritable mountain to climb if it was going to get any recognition. Sadly, it never achieved what it set out to do, receiving a number of scathing reviews from critics, and holding a very disappointing 5.1 aggregate on IMDb. What was once rumoured to be a planned trilogy of films instead faltered, and, ironically enough, it seems there are now rumours of yet another reboot.

DSC_7709.NEF“This thing will let me do all kinds of nasty stuff!”

I’ll be honest from the get go – there is a lot that could be improved upon. The story is a very run-of-the-mill fantasy one, involving a plot devi- err…necromantic mask, a hero driven by revenge and end of the world doom and gloom type evil. It’s arguably closer to Howard’s stories than the Schwarzenegger film, but that’s like saying Sainsbury’s Basics lager is closer to Stella Artois than Tesco Value lager – they still both taste like piss

The direction leaves a lot to be desired, and I think the film would have been a real smash if someone with more experience in the genre and, well, talent, had been at the helm. I mean, let’s face it, the only thing Nispel is known for is making – at best – mediocre reboots of classic films. I’m not entirely sure what Lionsgate were expecting to get when they hired him, but suffice it to say, I believe they made the wrong call.

GoT Buddies“Don’t worry man, at least we know Game of Thrones won’t bomb”

After all that, you might be wondering why I have given the film a “Kinda Awesome” rating, if I think there’s so much wrong with it? Fortunately, there are a number of things that I think are absolutely spot on in the film, and help elevate it out of pure mediocrity. The first of these things is Rose McGowan, playing a much more sinister, gothic witch than her most recognisable turn as Paige in the cult TV show ‘Charmed’. She brings a real twisted pleasure to the role, and genuinely seems to be having fun with it, which in turn makes it very easy to enjoy the character. She doesn’t have all that much to work with in terms of screen time or plot importance, but every second she gets she attacks with a devilish relish that is absolutely perfect for the role.

Paige“Paige was decidedly less charming when it was her time of month”

Second, the action was, for the most part, good. Again, some of the direction was a little off (the fight with the Dweller being case and point), I enjoyed most of the action sequences – and there were plenty of them. It was also blood-soaked, nailing the brutality of the Conan setting. My two favourite fight sequences were the battle against the sand demons, which while largely inconsequential to the plot as a whole and was certainly unexplained other than “Yeah, Paige can summon sand demons. Didn’t know that, did you?”, was thoroughly enjoyable, and the opening battle sequence showing Conan’s birth.

Speaking of that sequence, another great part of this film was an, as ever, great performance by Ron Perlman as the titular heroes father. Despite looking nothing like Momoa or Leo Howard (playing Young Conan), he certainly looks the part as a Barbarian leader. If you’ve seen Perlman in action before, I doubt I need to explain just why he’s so great in this kind of role. If you haven’t seen Perlman in action before, get the hell off my article.

Peekaboo“Peekaboo!”

Despite all that, the film would have still been mediocre if it wasn’t for one thing that they got absolutely spot on – Conan himself. Jason Momoa IS Conan, both physically (Schwarzenegger may be bigger, but that doesn’t make him more impressive – Conan is a brutal warrior, not a bodybuilder) and in his on screen presence and persona. Howard fans need to keep in mind that this is not the brooding, sombre Conan of later years, but the raging, life-loving Slayer of his youth. Had he been given a better script and a better director, I have absolutely no doubt that Momoa would have easily overshadowed Schwarzenegger and became the definitive Barbarian. If you don’t believe me, just look at Game of Thrones, where he played a very similar character and was loved for it.

This has been Blacksmith, writing for the Awesome Update.

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