Conan was not well-received on its initial release and at the risk of skipping to the punchline in the first paragraph of my review, it’s easy to see why. It has some decent elements within it, such as a good sense of the viciousness, grimness and harshness of ancient life, some evocatively brutal fight scenes and in Jason Momoa a modest dose of charisma and some well-chiselled physicality. But, it’s not enough.
Conan was already an iconic figure before Arnie embodied him and although the Austrian Oak’s shortcomings as an actor are self-evident, he does have masses of screen presence. Though Momoa is a chunky guy, handy with a sword and possesses some sparkle, it is not nearly enough to propel the predictable and derivative narrative along. The rest of the actors are familiar to a degree (Ron Perlman as Conan’s father can do this sort of thing in his sleep and kind of does, Stephen Lang chews the scenery like it’s the elixir of life) but it all sort of looks and feels like The Scorpion King – too little genuinely compelling mythology, no explanation of the rules of the game when it comes to the supernatural elements, far too much box-ticking with the plot and in the end, nothing to make us care one way or another about what happens.
Director Marcus Nispel is fast-becoming type-cast as a director of unnecessary, lambasted and needlessly gory remakes (Texas Chainsaw and Friday the 13th were his too) and although it was noted above that a sense of the brutality of the ancient world was welcome, there are more subtle, intelligent and considered ways of doing that than having your lead character stick his finger two knuckles deep into the nasal cavity of an enemy, having already sliced his nose off in an earlier scene.
There are some energetic fight scenes, but the low budget and small cast of extras reveal some obvious shortcomings and ultimately it is hard to care about what happens. The script is pretty flat, the acting one-dimensional and the gore eventually tiresome. A great big waste of invaluable source material and a sad mis-handling of a project with big potential. You can rent it or buy it here from 12th December, but you probably won’t.
Extras: Not bad, though hardly ground-breaking. All manner of contributors and experts wade in regarding the origins of Conan, from Robert E Howard’s pulp material, through Marvel, Arnie and later iterations, we then get a bit more on the development of this particular project and how they tried to build a sense of time and space with its own rules and mythology (spoiler alert – it didn’t really work). We also get some background on Robert E Howard himself, including the tragic revelation that he took his life at the age of 30, when faced with the prospect of his mother’s imminent death. She passed away the day after Howard took a gun to his head. There are brief featurettes on the staging of the action sequences and fight scenes and everyone contributes their tuppence-worth about how much fun it was and how hard Momoa worked. The commentaries were not available on the review disc, though there are to be two on the BD, one by the director Marcus Nispel and the other a two-hander with Momoa and co-star Rose McGowan. You can choose between the 2D and 3D versions as well, if that sort of thing is your bag.