Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Conan the Barbarian: a Review by Thor the Cat

Once again, a movie review written by my cat, Thor.

Hi, everyone! Well, things have been pretty exciting here for everyone in the Poindexter house! Echo moved out to go to law school and took her human Ross with her...or, maybe that was the other way around. I don't really know, all I know is they're both gone and I was sad for a while but now I'm feeling better. Ross is dad's best friend so he misses him. And Val moved away to go to college in some third world country called Arkansas. I hear they still eat their dead there. Hmmm...there has got to be some good news, too...OH! Dad got a publishing contract for his book! That's pretty awesome! Dad was so excited he drank five bottles of wine and threw up in the guest bathroom. Mom was PISSED! The bathroom still kind of smells like cheap red wine.

But whatever, you're not here to read about how my bathroom smells. You want a movie review. And so you shall have it! This week, hither came Conan the Barbarian! Obviously, my humans are both big fantasy fans so they were pretty excited about this. Therefore, so was I. Dad especially is a big Robert E. Howard fan, and a long time reader of Conan stories and his other work. Mom is so much into Conan, but she said she is a big fan of Jason Moamoa not wearing a shirt. So there was something for everyone.

I'm just going to come right out and say it. This movie was absolutely, one-hundred-percent solid...just okay. That's about the best I can say if forced to give it an overall review. The parts I liked about it I really, really liked...but the parts I didn't like were just kind of blah. Maybe I got too excited about this film going in, since it's been so long since they've done anything with Conan and dad kept going on about reviving the franchise and so on. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. I'm not going to call this film a flop, but it isn't going to re-ignite a series of Conan films to rival the cult popularity of the original, Arnold Swartzewhatever films.

Haters shall hateth!
The number one complaint I've been hearing from people is the lackluster, unoriginal plot. In a nutshell, some evil guy wants to sacrifice a girl (not a virgin, Conan sees to that) to something to get something else and Conan has to rescue her. We've seen it a million times, especially if you're a fan of fantasy. What people fail to realize is that the Conan stories are the reason we've seen that a million times. Robert E. Howard invented the "save the maiden from the evil cult" schtick! He also invented the sword-swinging bad-ass barbarian character, which was become cliche but was revolutionary for it's time.

So, people who complain about the plot of the story being old...well, yeah. But you could say the same thing about Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or just about any western and not be far off. Just get over it. If it makes you feel any better, the movie spends exactly four non-consecutive minutes developing the plot. The rest of that is action. The movie is basically one long battle, punctuated by sparse moments of dialog, a couple of gags, some boobs, a creepy scene where a girl tries to seduce her dad, and Jason Moamoa's bare ass. The best I can tell, the underlying story goes like this: As a child, Conan witnesses bandit warlord Khalar Zym and his creepy daughter Marique and an ethnically diverse band of reavers kill Conan's father to get the last piece of this magic mask. They accidentally leave Conan alive after burning his village and go in search of this girl named Tamara, whose blood they need to activate the mask because she's the last of the Targaryens and she's the only one who can be the mother of dragons---you know what, it doesn't matter. You're not going to care, all that matters is Conan grows from a child-death machine into an adult-death machine in the time it takes Zym and his creepy daughter to track down Tamara, who is unaware of her significance to the plot of the story even as all her friends are killed. Lucky for her, Conan--who has been cruising around Hyborea becoming a total bad-ass--manages to pick up the scent of his father's killer right around the same time Zym and his legion of assholes raid the monastery where she's been living in hiding. Conan basically kills everything in a direct line between himself and Zym until he gets his revenge.

And that is it. That's the movie. And that's the problem some fans have with it. They claim that it isn't really in keeping with the original stories. In Howard's work, Conan wasn't so much a hero as he was just a guy doing what he did best: kill, steal and fuck anything he wanted. He eventually became a king--by killing the old king--but he wasn't ever motivated by revenge and there was never much mention of his father or childhood. The decision to make this a revenge story was controversial because it wasn't a part of the original character. However, it doesn't exactly detract from the character. Conan's childhood and parentage was unexplored territory, at least for the Howard tales. The movie appears to be handling this as an unseen aspect of the character, something like a lost quest that we never got to see in the Howard stories. And lets face it: the film needed something to give it mass appeal, and a revenge story is generally more compelling than a series of short tales about a dark-haired bad-ass who can climb really well and kills giant snakes with his bare hands.

You dare laugh at Conan's Shake Weight?
Unfortunately, they fail. The story is the weakest point of the movie. We get that Conan is pissed about his dad dying and that it's what's driven him all these years, but it isn't really explored all that much. Characters are introduced--mostly Zym's generals who helped kill Conan's dad--but we don't get to know any of them very well. Also, there are some things that just don't make any sense. Hyborea doesn't appear to be very big, so it doesn't make sense that it would take Conan so long to figure out who killed his dad, especially since they guy is apparently extremely powerful and famous. Everyone on Hyborea appears to know who this guy is, even from the most basic description--big dude with a two-bladed sword and a creepy daughter, always going on about this damn mask--and yet Conan doesn't get wind of him until like ten years after his dad was killed. Also, every point in Hyborea appears to be within a days ride or sail of everyother point--kind of like LA on 24, where it takes Jack exactly ten minutes to transverse any two points in the city, be it on foot, car or helicopter. Why the shit did it take him so long to figure out what was going on?

That's your dad...ew!
And for that matter, what the hell was Zym and his creepy daughter doing all that time? They assembled the pieces of the mask, then spent ten years wandering conquoring all four square miles of Hyborea looking for the girl whose blood could awaken the mask so he could...what? Conquer Hyborea? If anything, Zym seems to become less intimidating the closer he gets to activating the mask. His army shrinks--and no, not just because Conan is killing them, though that would have been awesome--until the end battle where he's all alone. WHERE THE HELL DID HIS ARMY GO?!?

Oh, and another thing...why the hell was this in 3D? It served absolutely no purpose at all. At no point did anything on the screen actually come out at you. And I would have noticed if it had, I'm a cat. I go crazy for that shit. No joke, if something moves I am all over it in a second. I've had to stop typing sixty-three times since starting this blog to chase stuff down and slap the hell out of it with my paws. The only part of the film where the 3D results in something noteworthy was the fire embers during the end credits. That was not worth the 3D upcharge, which was like five hundred dollars or something, I don't know I'm a cat I don't understand money.

Hither comes Conan, baby!
I don't want to give the impression that I hated this movie. I certainly didn't. In fact, it was fun to watch. Because, like I said, it's basically one long fight. And THAT is definitely in keeping with the original Conan stories. If Conan can't fuck it or eat it, he kills it hard. Blood splatters everywhere, heads get chopped off, guys get thrown into other guys...it's great! Conan is a badass but he isn't invincible. He gets cut, burned and poisoned but he keeps fighting like a machine. And there are some genuinely funny parts in the film, reminicent of the humor present in Howards original stories: usually black, like when he uses a guy as ammunition for a catapult. Or the occasional "fish out of water" gag where Conan does something savage yet practical, like when he stuffs a wad of clothing into a woman's mouth to make her stop talking. Or when he just does something completely unexpected but obviously effective, like punching a guard in the face and then surrenders to him in order to get captured. Howard's stories are full of these kind of things, and they add to the flavor here.

The narration at the beginning and end of the film is done by Morgan Freeman, which automatically makes it cool. And there are some very effective supporting performances by Ron Pearlman (Conan's father) and Stephen Lang (Zym). Rose McGowen is okay, if a little over the top. Still, its a fantasy film so what are you gonna do? Most impressive of the smaller performances was the kid they got to play young Conan. He captured Momoa's mannerisms and poise perfectly. He really looked and acted like a younger version of the character we saw grow into the oily death puppet we watch hack and slash through the rest of the film.

Conan finds Rick Perry's closet
If nothing else, I hope this movie will launch Momoa's career into bigger and better things. He's a decent actor, and he has the physique of an action star and the talent and looks to go along with it. People have complained about his casting, mostly people who haven't seen the film, because of his role on the short-lived Stargate: Atlantis series. More recently, he played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, in which he had to learn lines and act in a made-up language. Ignore the haters: Momoa is the shining point of the film. He captures the dark, brooding intensity of the character better than anyone ever has. Yes, even Arnold Swartzanembo. Yeah, I said it. What are you gonna do? I'm a cat and my dad is bigger than you. Momoa manages to deliver relatively cliche barbarian dialog (i.e., "Run, and I shall tear apart the mountains to find you!" and so on) with enough charm and characterization to make you forget how trite it is. And, unlike Arnold Swartzajuggler, he's actually good looking. That was a major plot point of Conan from the original stories: how handsome he was. Seriously, everywhere he went, women hurled their vaginas at him. Arnold had the body...from the neck down. No, Momoa isn't as bulky as golden-era Arnold Swartzapepper, but the guy is literally MADE of muscle. I don't mean that he's just really muscular, or that he has the maximum muscle-to-body tissue ratio possible, I mean that every single part of his body is MADE of muscle: internal organs, skin, hair even his eyes. Momoa was every bit Conan, and he did a marvelous job.

My name is Conan Montoya...
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make this film great, which is disappointing considering the legendary material upon which it is based. I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if I'd gotten to see it at home, without those stupid glasses where I could run to my litter box anytime I wanted. Ignoring the completely unnecessary 3D, I'd give this movie 3 paws out of 5. If forced to rate it based on my expectations of the film and the unfulfilled promise of 3D effects, that would drop to 2. So, we'll give it 2 and a half paws, even though that doesn't really make any sense. Whatever, it's not important. Bottom line is this: the movie is fun, but not something you have to see in the theater. Rent it when it hits the shelves with added footage that hopefully explains who the hells some of these other people in the movie are supposed to be and why they give a mouse's ass about Zym and his mask.

So there it is, my review of Conan the Barbarian. Not bad, not great. Fun either way. Hope you've enjoyed it! Now I have to get back to chasing stuff, pretending to sleep and then chasing stuff again for no reason. Also, I'm hungry. So long until next time!