At some point, plot becomes the enemy. It prolongs the inevitable and languishes in mediocrity. The relentless, absurdly amplified grunts, howls and animal screams meld into a numbing, enervating auditory assault.
At some point, there’s a glimmer of hope that this will all soon be over, this clash between the cartoonishly evil sorcerer and brutish, unsympathetic warrior. The bellowing protagonist and growling antagonist square off against one another, clashing steel against steel. Hope fades as the former is forced to beat a hasty retreat.
At some point during Conan the Barbarian, the question presents itself: Is it worse to cynically make a movie one knows is horrible or to honestly believe that an awful film is worthy of public presentation? In my heart I truly believe it’s the former. Awareness of doing evil is the definition of evil, is it not? As for the latter — it’s too depressing to consider. How could they not see? How could they not hear the words as they’re speaking them?
When you thirst, you will thirst for blood. When you feel cold, it will be the cold edge of steel.
At first introduction, Little Feral Conan is already living proof of the words his father spoke. He can’t be more than 10, and he’s just slain four or five raving maniacs in a disorienting dance of kinetic editing trickery. He roars like the pint-sized savage he is, much as his father did in the are-they-really-doing-this opening battle scene, holding aloft baby Conan after cutting him out of his dying wife’s womb.
Enter the dark lord, Khalar Zym, laying waste to Conan’s village as he seeks the last piece to a ritual mask that will give him ultimate power to take revenge on those who killed his evil wife. The completed mask, when touched by the blood of a pure woman, will also bring her back to life. Conan’s father, defiant to the end, dies a gruesome death before the boy.
Cue the solemn narration by Morgan Freeman, whose vocal performance does less to class up the production than it does to draw attention to the utter absurdity of Morgan Freeman narrating this film. Time has passed and the warrior is reintroduced as a full-grown adult with massive biceps, pecs and curiously sympathetic agenda.
No man shall live as a slave. Right on, Conan, and why not – when the enslaved are gorgeous, half-naked women, those are convenient principles to live by.
From this point on, Conan does one thing (besides order people around and drink gallons of mead) – kill whatever stands in his way. One inscrutably staged, cheerless battle follows another, the 3D gimmick adding nothing but another layer of visual confusion. Action without excitement, noise without meaning, empty victory without triumph. The brief interludes between are no better, punctuated by ridiculous lines like this one:
Most men’s first taste is of their mother’s milk. His was of his mother’s blood.
So says a pirate to the beautiful “pure blood” innocent that the Khalar Zym needs to complete his quest for ultimate power. Shortly after, Conan will share his own blunt credo with the beauty, delivering the words without so much as an inflection of passion:
I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.
Khalar Zym has his own woman — his absurdly coiffed daughter, who shudders with sadistic delight while tasting human blood. Because the entire production is unhinged, the costume designer has dressed her up like a cross between Freddy Krueger, Elizabeth the First, the Red Queen and a lady Jedi from Revenge of the Sith.
At long last, the anticipated rematch. This will be it. The plot never thickened; it merely congealed. During their tiresome battle, the sorcerer prosaically growls his disgust.
Barbarian, I don’t like you anymore.
Way ahead of you, Khalar Zym. Way ahead of you.