Meat Slay Love
You’ll never hear me arguing that the 1982, Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Conan the Barbarian was any kind of watershed moment in cinema, but the new version from Marcus Nispel (a music video director who specializes in remakes) is still enough to make you nostalgic. It’s hard to pinpoint specific reasons why this tits, muscles, and gore-filled fantasy exploitation is dead eyed and hollow compared to the tit-filled, musclesploitation film from whence it sprung, it’s just that feeling you get when stupid people try to recreate things they think are cool. Like when strip mall strippers try to look like blonde playmates from the seventies and they come out looking like more crispy-haired versions of Coco Ice with bigger implants. Or when untalented musicians try to be Guns and Roses and end up Papa Roach. You know all they saw in the first place was blonde hair and big tits, or loud guitars and angry vocals, so it follows that when they went to recreate that, they were like, “Well NOW it has BLONDER hair and BIGGER tits, and LOUDER guitars and ANGRIER vocals! How much more do you love it, fagg*t!”
Gone are any sense of whimsy or kitsch, replaced by needy, semi-mean-spirited posturing. Nispel doesn’t so much tell a story as spend 90 minutes trying to gross out squares to prove his goth cred. It can occasionally be funny watching dimwits try to offend when they lack the creativity, but it’s funny in a sad way. That’s sort of the movie in a nutshell.
Conan is BORN IN BATTLE — it’s okay if you miss the first scene, because this plot point will be repeated roughly seven hundred times. The film opens with a tender moment between his mom and dad. She’s about to succumb to her wounds (fighting pregnant, obvi), and asks to see her child before she dies. So Conan’s dad cuts him out of her womb and she kisses the baby and the dad kisses her and she names it Conan and then she dies and everyone’s covered in blood, pus, poop, and animal fur. Because they’re barbarians, get it? They still have hearts, they’re just buried under poop and matted fur and gore.
Next we see Conan as a precocious tween, an apprentice swordsman under his dad, played by Ron Perlman, master of silly costumes. One interesting feature of Ron Perlman’s face is that it’s actually large enough that different parts of it are on different planes of depth in 3D. But anyway, Conan’s dad forges him a sword (Cimmerian Steel, finest in the world), but not just any sword, a PHILOSOPHY sword. “What is more important to steel? Fire or ice?” Perlman asks. “Fire?” says Conan. “No wait, ice.” “Wrong”, his dad tells him. “Fire AND ice.” BOOSH. You just got trick question’d, Brobarian.
Soon, a bad guy comes and burns Conan’s village and kills his dad and blah blah blah, make with the shirtless Hawaiian dude already. Whereas in the original version, Arnold was pressed into slavery and forced to push The Wheel of Pain his entire adolescence, thus explaining (sort of…) why he got to be so jacked, the new Conan just sort of starts off a badass who murders three grown men when he’s 12 and is still a badass when we catch up to him in the present. Also, it doesn’t quite make sense when the new Conan decides to attack a random slave colony, saying, “No man should live in chains,” since in this one, Conan has presumably never been a slave himself. But it all comes together when we discover that THIS slave colony is run by the Spearmint Rhino. What he should’ve said was “No bare-titted bikini model should live in chains!” So Conan kills the slaver and everyone’s like WINE AND IMPLANTS FOR EVERYONE! HUZZAH! And it looks like Roman fantasy by way of Vegas pool party. But farbeit from me to complain about the gratuitous bare breasts. I could see this being great spank material for today’s 13-year-olds, if they weren’t already busy sodomizing the fleshlight attachments on their iPads while watching amputee porn. Ah, progress.
Eventually Rose McGowan shows up in a goth witch costume as the most grating movie character since jar Jar Binks. It’s not nearly fun enough watching her struggle with how old-timey to go with her accent (something the actors had a lot of fun with in Your Highness) to justify how over-the-top obnoxious and difficult to look at she is. Jason Momoa isn’t a great actor either, obviously, but he does have a certain charm (the pecs, maybe?), even if he can’t quite figure out whether to play Conan as a reluctant hero or a growling beast man. Then there’s the love interest, Rachel Nichols, whose body double shows up for the most comical sex scene since Showgirls. She plays the modern take on the Damsel in Distress. These days, even filmmakers as meatheaded as the guys behind Conan are schooled enough in political correctness to know that you can’t have the love interest be just helpless eye candy anymore. Solution? Make sure she’s not just some hot chick, but a TOUGH hot chick. TICK TICK TICK…. SLUTS! Which almost always translates to her beating up a faceless henchman or two before she gets overwhelmed and has to call the hero for help. Again, progress.
I loved the old, earnest sexism. This new version is just confusing.
Grade: D+ (but if you enjoyed the trailer, this unironic Your Highness won’t disappoint)