Conan the Barbarian is the surprise hit of the summer, filled with strong, passionate characters, unexpected plot twists and eye-popping 3D special effects that only add to the well-crafted story.
No. I'm kidding. This is a terrible movie.
I get that I'm not exactly the target market, since I'm not a 15-year-old boy, violence tends to seriously upset me and I think titties are just okay instead of totally great, but still. I walked out of the theater in a haze of nausea and regret. I felt stupider then when I'd arrived, and I despaired of a film industry that makes movies like Conan possible.
It begins with a long, boring prologue explaining some stuff about a magic mask: It got broken, the pieces were scattered, and if Evil Guy finds the one missing piece, then, well, you know. The script is clever in making the plot just enough like Lord of the Rings that we can fill in the blanks ourselves.
We see Conan as a 12-year-old scamp in the village, surrounded by many extras in animal pelts. The camera pans out for a bird's eye view of the village, where we see everyone hard at work making weapons, moving gigantic logs and boulders, training for a fight and all other manner of working out.
And then the killing begins. We watch little Conan slaughter a dozen warriors by himself, and they're scary! They file their teeth down into spikes and make impossible noises. We see men but we hear werewolves. Little Conan bashes heads on rocks and the blood splatters on snow. Imagine a squashed grapefruit, plus broken branches and the dimming light of another human's soul, except forget that last part. In order to stomach the pile-up of ultra-violent scenes that this movie hurls at us one after the other, we have to turn off our ability to empathize. And that's just wrong.
In a contrived and elaborate set-up involving a heavy chain and molten lava, Conan's dad is killed and the last piece of the mask falls into the hands of the evil people, which means they can use the power to do (yawn) something bad. Evil Guy makes Conan watch his father die, and from here on out, Conan is single-mindedly motivated by revenge.
Conan grows into the handsome John Momoa and the story turns its ugly wooden gears some more. There's so little dialogue in Conan the Barbarian besides grunts and skulls cracking that it's practically a silent film. When the characters do talk, it's to ineloquently explain the plot to one another, or else to describe the thing that just happened: "I'm letting you live in order to see your father die," or "Ow, my nose!" after Conan cuts off a dude's nose. There are at least three screenwriters listed in the credits, who, apparently by committee, managed to piece together Conan's longest speech: "I live. I love. I slay. I am content."
The suprisingly intricate plot introduces a pretty white woman with the perfect bloodlines to make the evil mask work, played by Rachel Nichols. It's pretty racist if you stop to think about it, but never mind. Conan just got done banging an entire clan of topless slaves but we're still expected to believe in this new relationship developing shyly and earnestly instead of barbarically and briefly behind a boulder, as is Conan's usual. When they come together, it just may be the first time Conan's kissed a girl on the mouth.
Rose McGowan and her dad, Evil Guy, played by Stephen Lang, are the evil father-daughter duo. McGowan's terrible character, made up to look like a Star Trek villain with inexplicable magic powers and weird, senseless dialogue, is the best thing in the film. I enjoyed the way she moves, and she plays the character a little lezzy. Conan faces them in an incomprehensible scene involving a rickety bridge above a pit, another chain and still more lava. At one point I thought he'd dropped his girlfriend into the pit, which inspired an emotional reaction from me akin to "You win some, you lose some!" But no, it was Evil Guy again.
Why was this movie made in 3D? Most of the scenes are cluttered and take place indoors. Conan's pecs really pop, but surely I could appreciate them just as well in two dimensions. Despite all the skulls and torture devices on display, the film manages to look cheap, muddled and ugly. For anyone who's ever worked hard at or strived to appreciate art, it's hurtful and offensive to see filmmakers put such little care into a production.
Don't see this movie. Just don't. If I made it sound entertaining, I didn't mean to. It's not "so bad it's good," it's just really, really bad.
If you pay $11.25 to see it in 3D, it only encourages Hollywood to make more crap. And then Evil Guys win.
Conan the Barbarian continues at the Carmike 10.