I just returned home from lunch and a morning showing of Conan the Barbarian. The lunch was good.
That is, perhaps, unkind of me. Conan was half of a decent movie. The first half. It’s not high literature or anything, of course. It’s not War and Peace or Gone With the Wind. But for a movie about a guy who has no real aspirations in life beyond killing and having sex, it was about as good as you could expect. Reasonably well written, with an engaging cast. My only complaints through the first half of the movie were the sound mix being too heavily in favor of the generic action movie soundtrack, and the occasional continuity error (Conan’s sleeve changes Armor Class rather dramatically in one scene, and he seems strangely resistant to being cut, even by sword blows to the face).
But these are things you take with a grain of salt when dealing with a genre of movie typified by such titles as Krull, Deathstalker, and Ator the Fighting Eagle. We’re not here to see a realistic recreation of the heartbreak caused by war-torn France in the Great War, we’re here to see a guy with massive muscles and no shirt killing hordes of bad guys for some vague reason or other, and the first half of the movie doesn’t disappoint.
In fact, there are moments of brilliance. The love-interest Tamara, for example, played by Rachel Nichols, is an ass-kicking warrior-monk who racks up a body count only slightly smaller than that of the titular character himself during a couple of scenes early on. Her first introduction to Conan, in fact, involves her punching him square in the face. A good start, I should think.
Things are going well. The villain is properly villainous, his daughter (played by Rose McGowan who has never looked more creepy) is properly obsequious AND villainous, and Jason Momoa’s Conan flexes, growls, and glistens in a way that will have even non-sci-fi women looking up Stargate: Atlantis on Netflix.
Then there comes a scene where the badguys sneak aboard the ship Conan and Tamara are on. And from there, you can practically hear the Fonz jumping that shark in the background.
Caution: There be spoilers in the rest of this rant.
Suddenly, we have continuity errors that literally had people in the audience laughing out loud. Plot holes suddenly appear, characters suddenly have complete personality revisions, and anything even approaching logic or sense goes right out the window.
The time of day goes from ‘nighttime and still dark out’ to ‘somewhere around noon based on the shadows’ to ‘morning or just before sunset since the sun is suddenly on the horizon’ all in the space of a single battle (and not a big war either, just two small groups going at it. Should have taken probably half an hour and yet, by the sun, it lasted over 12 hours).
In the middle of a canyon in the desert, Conan and Tamara pause to get it on with each other, and suddenly they are rolling around (literally) in the hay… of a house that… wasn’t there a moment ago. The heroine leaves the desert-canyon-house in the morning and walks straight into a forest that looks like it escaped from the latest werewolf movie filmed in the wilds of the Czech Republic.
The hero can’t find the villain’s lair at the beginning, but it turns out to be a huge city on the coast (remember, the hero has a ship), right next to a cave that looks so much like a skull, and is so well known AS “Skull Cave” that even a thief acquaintance of Conan’s who has never been anywhere near this neighborhood before can readily identify it as Skull Cave (and knows the secret way into the villain’s lair… for some reason).
After sneaking through the sewers to get into the city, Conan finds himself in a room that opens into a pool with the Watcher in the Water from Fellowship of the Ring. And once the tentacles start coming out and randomly grabbing whatever they can, a bunch of guards run INTO the room instead of just barring the door and waiting for the screaming and thrashing to subside.
For dramatic tension, someone seems to be slipping and losing grip on chains above Shafts of Doom… when in fact they are manacled to that chain. They couldn’t fall if they wanted to, a fact which is then brought home as forcefully as could be when this same person moments later has to ASK to be released from the chain.
Horses appear out of nowhere whenever the director thinks it would be neater to see the characters on a horse rather than running.
The villains have to transport someone from one place to another where they will be sacrificed. So they strap the victim to the big wooden wheel execution thing BEFORE beginning the trip. Why was the big wooden execution wheel thing even AT the city instead of in the cave where it needed to be? Why did they keep moving it back and forth instead of leaving it alone. That’s the same thing as picking up your altar and carrying it across town with you every week between religious ceremonies.
But perhaps the biggest travesty is Tamara. From ass-kicking warrior-monk girl, she becomes the screaming, simpering damsel in distress who needs to call for Conan to rescue her, even though she was kicking the butt of the sorceress she was fighting at the time. She was doing fine! She didn’t need Conan’s help. But for some reason, the director felt the need to have the hero ‘rescue’ her, even when every indication prior to and even at that point were that she didn’t need rescuing.
Why do men feel threatened by strong women in our fantasy? I look back at a LOT of these types of movies, even ones in the last couple of years, and you see the same thing over and over: a strong woman kicks ass for 3/4 of the movie/tv show/book, and then SUDDENLY needs the (male) hero to come rescue them at the end, from threats no more dangerous than ones they have already demonstrated they can handle time and time again. Are we, as a gender, so insecure that we can’t handle the idea of a woman who can take care of herself? And if so, why? Personally, if I were a fantasy (or sci-fi, or really any sort) of Hero, I would far rather have a “partner” than a “dependent.” Someone who can watch my back, someone I don’t have to be constantly saving from crap they were able to handle 15 minutes ago. I’d be going into every fight wondering “Oh God, is this one of the ones where she’s going to suddenly become useless halfway through?”
And the thing is, other than Tamara calling for help, none of the problems with the movie were directly writing issues. Ok, I’m just guessing because I haven’t seen the script, but that whole ‘scene of them dragging the big wooden wheel/execution thing across the beach’ seems more like a director saying “It would be cool if we had this shot” rather than a writer saying “So, it makes sense that they keep moving the thing back and forth.” And even the heroine wimping out at the end could just as easily been the director. Considering that after Conan comes and ‘helps’ her, it is STILL the heroine who kicks the evil witch off the cliff onto the spikes below, it seems to me that the inclusion of Conan in that scene was, possibly, not even part of the script.
So, see Conan for the first half, then find the REAL Barbarian behind this travesty, Marcus Nispel. Drive him before you and hear the lamentation of his agents.