'Conan the Barbarian': Burly, bloody and at times fun, critics say
The two questions raised by the new “Conan the Barbarian” reboot are whether newcomer Jason Momoa can fill the loincloth of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the original slayer-hero, and whether the film can rejuvenate the franchise for a new audience.
One thing critics agree on is that Momoa is a suitably buff replacement. He’s labeled “a luxury cut of beef” by the New York Times, a “slab of beef” by the Boston Globe and a “statuesque beefcake” by Time. That the titular barbarian wades through oceans of blood should come as no surprise to anyone. Depending on who you ask, it all adds up to mindless fun or mindless boredom.
In one of the more positive reviews, The Times’ Betsy Sharkey says the film “is brutal, bloody beyond belief, and has no socially redeeming value. So it is with a certain amount of guilt that I say it's kind of a wicked blast to watch, especially if you're in the mood for some righteous revenge.” She also applauds the film’s cinematography and production design: “From locations to sets, ‘Conan’ is drenched in detail that feels both ancient and mythic as Conan dogs the evil Khalar from mountain enclaves, through dungeons, into torture chambers and across seas.”
But for Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, the film was a nonstarter. LaSalle writes, “It takes a lot for a ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movie to be flat-out idiotic, when you consider how low the bar is set already. But this remake of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger extravaganza flirts with absurdity from its opening seconds.… It's downhill from there.”
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who calls the film a “heavy-metal fantasia scrawled in red,” says Momoa acquits himself well in his bloody role: “He rises to that task with a pumped physique made for ogling. Thankfully, he also shows glints of self-awareness that can make hypermasculine blowouts like these more watchable and were largely missing from Mr. Schwarzenegger’s wide-eyed turn in the first ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982).”
In a review for Time, Richard Corliss notes that director Marcus Nispel is something of “a serial offender in grave-robbing old horror franchises,” having remade “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Frankenstein” and “Friday the 13th.” In “Conan,” Nispel offers “a body count in the mid-trillions and scenes of rapacity designed to force even the jaded male demographic to utter the ‘eww’ noise of a little girl seeing a squashed toad.”
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who found the plot inconsequential and the characters flat, likened his filmgoing experience to watching someone play a video game. He sums things up thusly: “‘Conan the Barbarian’ is a brutal, crude, witless high-tech CGI contrivance, in which no artificial technique has been overlooked, including 3-D.”
In the Boston Globe, Ty Burr also panned the film’s 3-D conversion, writing that it “turns a pointless but watchable sword-and-sorcery B-flick into an unwatchable bowl of sludge” and calling it “the worst offender since ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘The Last Airbender.’” Burr adds, “As for the movie itself, it’s tolerable.”
Whether Conan will ride again, retreat to his kingdom or perhaps seek vengeance on his detractors remains to be seen.
-- Oliver Gettell
Photo: Jason Momoa in "Conan the Barbarian." Credit: Lionsgate