Granted, I know nothing about the original “Conan” mythology and hardly remember Schwarzenegger’s two films, but what you bring to a film matters. And as far as expectations go, I went into this one pretty cold. This is one explanation I have for enjoying the hell out of something dismissive reviewers and moviegoers assured me I wouldn’t. Another explanation is that “Conan” is an exciting, well-made film that didn’t deserve its reception and does deserve a second chance on home video.
The story is simple: A very bad man ably played by Stephen Lang destroys young Conan’s village and kills his father (a perfectly cast Ron Perlman). As a consequence, and as expected, the adult Conan (a surprisingly good Jason Momoa) grows into a man driven by a blood-thirst for vengeance. Luckily for him (and us), Conan has the mad skills to back this quest up, and the non-stop action scenes that follow are all very well shot and choreographed.
You could argue that there’s not much of a plot, but as someone sick to death of this new trend of OVER-plotting action films, “Conan’s” story simplicity is actually something of a pleasant surprise. The narrative jumps from A to B to C with ease. You always know exactly where you are and who’s doing what and why. The plot also moves. What felt like 90 minutes was actually 113 — though things do falter some during the climax.
In keeping with the whole “Barbarian” theme, the action is brutally bloody and realistic, and the nudity is gloriously gratuitous. “Conan” is R-rated and proud of it, and that’s the whole point. “Conan” isn’t ambitious in the areas of characterization or theme, but it’s not aiming to be. “Conan” wants to be an exploitative B-move ride (a $70 million B-movie), and in that respect it more than hits the target it’s aiming for.
Thanks to some stunning locations and top-notch set design, the Blu-ray is gorgeous and I have no doubt that my avoiding the whole 3D theatre experience helped, as well. In fact, one of the reasons I’m a fan where theatrical critics were not might be because “Conan” is better suited for home video. People my age will remember how we all fell in love with the somewhat similar “Clash of the Titans” and “Beastmaster” as they reran endlessly on HBO in the early ’80s. Neither did well at the box office, but in the right format both developed devoted followings that (at least speaking for me) last to this day.
“Conan,” however, surpasses both. Obviously the budget allows for an A-level production, but if I had to name the film’s most impressive accomplishment, it’s that the story and dialogue never devolve into self-parody or anything close to hokey. The actors play it straight and keep it straight, and amidst all the sword and sorcery that’s not an easy thing to do.
“Conan” is, at heart, a satisfying revenge tale — thanks mainly to over a half-dozen superbly crafted action scenes. Most importantly, though, the story worked in the only way that matters. I hated the bad guy and wanted him to die at the hands of the good guy.
Good enough for me. As a matter of fact, I’m planning to give “Conan” another look tonight.