In 1982, Conan the Barbarian made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name. When filmmakers were set to remake the sword and sandals classic, the secret to success was finding their own Conan worthy of the role. With Jason Momoa, we can safely say: Job well done.
Conan the Barbarian was born on the battlefield. That fact is the film’s tagline and also serves as the introductory scene for the film. The opening sequence also lets its audience know the graphic nature of its violence and vision. Conan’s mother died giving birth to him and later, when his father is mercilessly killed, the young Barbarian now has his purpose: Revenge.
Conan is one of two 1980s genre-defining hits being released this weekend with modern takes. Fright Night also has its spotlight star in Colin Farrell. Yet Farrell has much more to work with while managing less. Momoa has to carry the film. It's saying something about the actor that he alone makes Conan the Barbarian mindless fun.
Action sequences in Conan the Barbarian sizzle, especially in 3D. Viewers are placed in the midst of each of Conan’s fights through the third dimension. Action scenes can easily be exposed as weak or too choreographed when shown in 3D -- not so with Conan.
This is not a film to be seen for the acting chops of its cast. But two performers stand out beyond Momoa’s star-making turn. Rachel Nichols and Stephen Lang live and breathe their characters. She is the love interest who is also integral to the destiny aspect of the storyline. Lang portrays the center of all evil in Khalar Zym. The actor brings his blockbuster beastly best while still showing vulnerability that fosters his driving force motivation.
The dialogue at times is simplistic at best. Momoa sizzles yes, but he has to utter lines such as "I live, I love, I slay, and I am content..." and you feel for the guy. The screenplay somehow loses its luster at the beginning of the second act. The film’s first 30 minutes crackle. Then, other than watching Momoa rock the house and having the fight scenes sear the mind's eye in 3D, Conan the Barbarian misses the mark.
The Conan the Barbarian of Schwarzenegger days was no mountain of movie might quality-wise. But, it felt epic and gave birth to a star. Conan the Barbarian 2011 will also produce a cinema celebrity in Momoa, but rings hallow as a whole.
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