…does it get any better than that? And honestly what were you people expecting?
I was sorely tempted to title this post “The Best Ass in Showbiz” but that would only have been cheap titillation. And that would just be wrong…especially when discussing a movie like Conan the Barbarian…
Besides, seriously? Jason Momoa has a great ass.
Okay, squealing fan-girl moment over with, I can now tell you my impressions of the movie. Let me just say right off the bat, I liked it. I had a lot of fun watching it and in my estimation that is all one should expect from a movie of this nature. It could be said that I wanted to like this movie just as I wanted to like Cowboys & Aliens or Green Lantern and to that I have to say, of course I wanted to like it! Why else would I buy a ticket if it were not something I expected to enjoy? Why would you? JMHO, but the trick is to set your expectations at the appropriate level.
After months of anticipation, Cowboys & Aliens debuted on the day of its release at about 34% on Rotten Tomatoes. I personally, had only read one review before going in (and it wasn’t bad) because I don’t like to have my opinion tainted by the opinions of others, no matter how much I tend to agree or disagree as a general rule with the writer. JMHO, a lot of reviewers (at least the lesser ones) do get influenced by each other and by more mainstream critics.
Using Cowboys & Aliens as an example, I have to wonder just what people were looking for. The movie does a good job of setting itself up as a traditional western then turns the good guy vs bad guy trope on its head by morphing into a movie about alien abduction that just happens to be set in the old west.
Are all of the standard clichés from every western you’ve ever seen present and accounted for? Yes. That’s part of the reason it’s so much fun. You’re watching a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy oater and then…ALIENS! The movie plays it straight too. It comes from the position that these people don’t know what a plane is, they aren’t used to anything flying around their heads, let alone alien invaders from another world. They have no preconceptions about what an alien should look like when most of them have probably never seen an Asian or an African American. Native Americans probably still looked ‘other worldly’ to a great many inhabitants of the old west, most of whom were of European descent.
In any case all of the above plot points would be enough to get me into the theater, but along to support this high concept are Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford and that combination, together with Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard producing and Jon Favreau directing, is just too enticing to pass up.
For my money it was a good story well told and well acted. The aliens were appropriately creepy, Harrison Ford was as grumpy and Daniel Craig as stoic as expected…plus you know…the leather chaps… but I digress. Bottom line, I enjoyed my two hours spent in the dark taking the wild ride for which I had purchased a ticket.
This leads me to the movie that I saw yesterday. Those who walked into the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian expecting a remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film would probably be disappointed, but it wasn’t Sinbad or even the original Clash of the Titans either (or the remake of that film for that matter). It’s far grittier than the earlier version, and one should know what to anticipate when the opening scene takes place in the middle of battle where our hero is literally born. We’re introduced to Conan’s warlord but loving father (ably played by Ron Perlman, whose facial hair deserves a credit of its own.) After a leap in time we see the adolescent Conan developing into the warrior we will come to know. Leo Howard who plays Conan at this stage is very convincing. I’ve read that he and Jason Momoa consciously worked together on their facial expressions and mannerisms so that the younger would more accurately transition into the older Conan. JMHO, but they did a very good job. (That’s one of the things I always look for, whether or not filmmakers have cast someone who could believably grow up into the adult actor.) The village is destroyed in front of young Conan’s eyes and after being introduced to who will become the major players in his life, he is left to feel at least partially responsible for his father’s death.
After another fold of time, Conan’s all grown-up (oh yes…very grown up) and of course, looking for revenge. Along the way he does good deeds like liberating slaves from captivity (and if a few of said slaves happened to have been beautiful semi-clad women then naturally he gives them the opportunity to show their gratitude). Once he gets pointed in the right direction, our Barbarian begins his quest in earnest and that’s where the fun really begins.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to have your thinking cap on when you enter the theater by any stretch of the imagination. The movie is smart enough to stay out of the land of ridicule and parody, but it’s not asking a lot of its audience other than that they enjoy themselves. Basically it barrels along on its own bloody momentum. Unlike a lot of films in this genre which only seem to use the big action set pieces parenthetically around the plot, CtB is almost non-stop action. It’s a lean, mean fighting machine; all sweaty, grimy, and bone-crunchingly gory with blood flinging everywhere. (This shouldn’t actually come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen a trailer or even looked at a poster. And if you hadn’t, what are you doing at this movie?) There’s not a lot of plot exposition, or character development. We’re shown who the characters are and they behave accordingly. There’s not a lot of dialogue, but then again, there’s not a lot that needs to be said. As Conan says, “I live, I love, I slay, I am content.” That pretty much sums him up. There are a few sidekicks, some heroic and wise, others mischievous and definitely meant as comic relief. The villains are appropriately vile to the point that one wants to yell “boo…hiss!” when they are on screen, just as one should at any Saturday matinee worth the salt on the popcorn.
Rose McGowan’s sorceress is just wacky enough, tempered by some overt sexuality and perhaps some covert hints at incest, to keep from being over the top. Rachel Nichols is not only a beautiful damsel in distress but has her own moments of ass-kicking heroics. I loved Stephen Lang’s Khalar Zym. Without resorting to camp, he was clearly having a blast playing the very evil, very very bad, bad guy. As for the new Conan…sigh…Jason Momoa was everything one could hope for in a Barbarian. His Conan is a take-no-prisoners, barely verbal tough guy oozing charm and sex appeal through every bulging, rippling muscle. He wields his mighty sword very convincingly. Did I mention he has a great ass? Reportedly Momoa is already signed on for two sequels. I hope they get made because I’ll buy a ticket to that. And I won’t be alone.
Director Marcus Nispel is best known for the reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th franchises, although I know of no plans to continue with either of them. I think he’s struck paydirt here. Nispel is also known as a journeyman director who can be hired to carry out the vision of the studio and the producers rather than his own grandiose plans, but I think here he managed to do it right. There are not a lot of quiet moments in the film, but even when there are, he manages to keep the narrative rolling along. A lot of the credit goes to the special effects and CGI gurus for creating gorgeous and yet brutal landscapes, creepy monsters and crumbling relics, but the film is pretty much a crazed wham bam thank you ma’am action-fest from start to finish. It may not aspire to be like the Conan of yore but it does manage to respect the old school action yarns that came before it.
What all of this has led up to is my assertion that sometimes expectations can be too high. Regardless of how seriously anyone who writes about movies for a living may take the art of filmmaking, or how much pride we stock in our knowledge of arcane movie lore etc, etc, there are movies that are made for sheer entertainment. They don’t have a ‘message’ and they don’t harbor illusions of winning awards or accolades. Are some more well made than others? Certainly. I’d like to think that I am discerning when it comes to what I will spend my time or money on. I don’t get paid to see everything that comes down the pike and I don’t like everything that I do see. But when it comes to a movie like Conan the Barbarian, which is based on a comic book, what I expect is a comic book of a movie. JMHO, but films like this ask only that you sit back, relax and enjoy and, as I’ve said before, stop looking for the zippers up the backs of the monsters.