This was another film that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect from – I haven’t seen the Schwarzenegger version, or any other other films in the franchise, but I’ve heard/read enough to know the basic concept and that it sounded like something I’d probably enjoy. Having seen Momoa in HBO’s recent Game of Thrones, I knew he could pull of Barbarian fighter pretty convincingly.
It was a shame then, that this version of Conan was overall fairly disappointing.
From the start, it reminded me of the Fable video games – you see the traumatic childhood event that sets the hero off on their path, and then the intervening years are narrated – done here by Morgan Freeman – before dropping you back into the picture with hero fully formed and ready to finish his quest. In Fable, it works because you want to get on a play the game without having to grow up with your character. In this film, it robbed Conan of a lot of his motivation. Yes, I saw his village, family and friends get massacred when he was a boy, so his need for vengeance is understandable. By skipping the intervening years without so much as a montage, what I don’t have is any sense of the scale of his quest – how far it has taken him, how long he has searched and nursed this hatred for the man who killed his father. So when, almost straight away, Conan stumbles across him without any apparent effort, it seems contrived, and a bit lazy.
My other main problem with the film was how old fashioned and cliched it felt – as though it had been made for an audience of middle-aged guys who still lived at home and played warhammer/dungeons and dragons in their rooms. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But fantasy is a lot more mainstream now than when the first Conan films came out and the audiences it attracts much more discerning; the film as a whole could have done with being a little bit self-aware, of having that small tongue-in-cheek glint in its eye that says it’s aware of how daft it is when a man growls “woman”, instead of being deadly serious.
The makers of Conan could have done with taking into account other recent film – even Prince of Persia which Conan reminded me a lot of, but not in a good way – and reviving the franchise into something a lot more modern and intelligent, that took the cliches Conan deals in and rendered them lovingly with a nod and a wink into something worth watching. As it is, I’m glad I didn’t fork out almost a tenner to see it*, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t pay extra to see the 3D version.
*I have a Cineworld Unlimited card, I didn’t watch it by any nefarious means