REVIEW: “Conan the Barbarian” (2011)

For the past few years Hollywood has been consumed with remaking movies from the 1980’s. I have to admit, “Conan the Barbarian” was one I could see being remade with satisfying results. I’m a fan of the original 1982 fantasy film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a gritty and violent movie jammed with swordplay and sorcery. This time Jason Momoa takes on the role of Conan and while he does a good job channeling the Barbarian’s grunts, growls, and muscle flexes, ultimately the movie’s story runs out of gas and the special effects don’t live up to what you would expect from a 2011 movie.

We’re introduced to Conan at the time of his birth on the battlefield during an intense attack. His mother dies and he is raised by his father Corin (Ron Perlman), the leader of a tribe of barbarians. Conan grows into a young boy who’s agility and skills with the blade are beyond his years. It’s during this time that his village is attacked by an evil warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) who is seeking the pieces to an ancient mask he believes will resurrect his deceased wife and eventually lead to his rule over Hyboria. Doesn’t it always come down to that?

Zym and his army destroy young Conan’s village and leaving the boy to witness his father’s death. The story then catapults ahead to an adult Conan working as a mercenary. Still thirsty for revenge, he finds a trail that he hopes will lead to Zym. Zym still hasn’t figured the mask out and now is seeking a monastery that houses a pure-blood descendant (Rachel Nichols), blah, blah, blah. Conan ventures from location to location before tracking Zym down, falling for the descendant, and getting caught between saving her and carrying out his revenge.

The story has promise especially for those who love these types of fantasy films. It has moments that captures what made the original film a cult favorite particularly during the first half. But it hits a point where it begins to lose steam, turning into becomes a conventional and predictable fantasy tale. There are plenty of action scenes featuring snarls, sword twirling, and blood splatters. Some of them work well, but much of the action lacked context and seemed like nothing more than dressing. And I also found the finale to be as underwhelming as the buildup to it.

It’s also surprising to see how bland the special effects turned out to be. Many of the location shots look like hazy paintings instead of lived-in lands. There is also a creature battle close to the end that certainly doesn’t stand up to the visual accomplishments of today’s effects. But there is a really good effects-driven sequence where Conan is battling a group of sand warriors conjured up by Zym’s witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan). It’s clearly the best the movie offers.

As I mentioned, Momoa is a soild Conan and Nichols is a good match for him on the screen. Perlman is a nice choice for Conan’s father even though it’s a relatively small role. Stephen Lang isn’t as bad as he was in “Avatar” but once again he seems to be following the “How to Play a Movie Villain” handbook. He overplays several scenes and he’s never the slightest bit menacing. McGowan, his co-antagonist, feels like a bigger threat even though her character is pretty shallow and forgettable.

Forgettable is also a good way to describe “Conan the Barbarian”. It’s not a terrible movie but it squanders a lot of potential. It does do a few things right especially in the first half. There are also moments that made me reflect back to the original film and how I responded to it as a kid. Unfortunately this one can’t sustain a compelling story and the visuals don’t feel like a worthy enough upgrade. This was one remake that I expected a lot more from.




I thought it might be fun to do a Phenomenal 5 that should surely spark discussion. I’m going to list five movies that I feel are incredibly overrated. Now I know there are many people who love the movies I’m listing and they have been defended as great films by many who are smarter than me. But for different reasons I didn’t find them to be the cinematic classics that they are heralded as. Some aren’t necessarily terrible movies. But none of these films worked for me. I actually found there to be more movies to consider than I thought there would be but I’m very comfortable with these five. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But for me, there’s no denying that these are 5 phenomenally overrated films…or are they?

#5 – “TOY STORY 3” (2010)

I can’t think of another movie review that I have written that stirred more people up than my take on “Toy Story 3”. The movie was incredibly popular and it was a gold mine for Pixar. It not only won the Best Animated Feature Oscar but it was also nominated for Best Picture. What surprised me even more is that the film found it’s way on countless Critic’s Top 10 lists for the year 2010. My biggest beef with “Toy Story 3” is that it’s pretty run-of-the-mill. The film is bookended by an outstanding opening and a touching ending but it’s everything in between that stumbles. It’s a repetitive drag that’s really nothing more than a typical loud cartoon. The middle has some serious issues with tone and it could have easily been 15 minutes shorter. Now “Toy Story 3” isn’t a bad movie but it’s also not one that I feel deserved the accolades it received. It has it’s share of flaws and I certainly feel it’s overrated.

#4 – “ANNIE HALL” (1977)

I have heard “Annie Hall” called the greatest romantic comedy of all time. I can’t say I agree. This much-loved film won several Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture for Woody Allen. It’s also heralded as the 35th Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (taken for what it’s worth). Now don’t misunderstand me, I did find “Annie Hall” to be funny in places. But I also found it to be repetitive and eventually a tad boring. It sometimes comes across as a standup comedy routine that uses the same material but presents it in slightly different ways. I can appreciate Allen’s wit but here he milks that cow dry. “Annie Hall” certainly isn’t terrible but I have a hard time calling it one of the best of all time. In fact, for me it’s not even close.

#3 – “EASY RIDER” (1969)

“Easy Rider” is considered a landmark counterculture movie and it ushered in a new style and method of filmmaking. It received several Oscar nominations and even today it’s listed as The American Film Institute’s 84th greatest movie of all time. Well, I have to disagree. Not only did I find “Easy Rider” flat and muddled but also annoying at times. It’s the hippie movement’s self-portrait that features more pot smoking and free spirit babbling than entertainment and enjoyment. Jack Nicholson is fun to watch and there is some good camera work and locations. But to be honest, I never connected with “Easy Rider”. It feels dated and features one of the most annoying movie scenes I have ever seen (the drug trip in cemetery). I know many love this movie. I’m not one of them.

#2 – “APOCALYPSE NOW” (1979)

I don’t have room to list all of the accolades, honors, and positive reviews that Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” has received. It was nominated for around 8 Academy Awards winning two. It hauled in three Golden Globe Awards and sits at #28 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list. Almost every prominent film critic has praised the movie. Roger Ebert even goes as far as to call it “one of the greatest of all films”. For me, “Apocalypse Now” is a mixed bag. It’s starts off well enough before really getting good when Robert Duvall hits the screen. The Air Calvary helicopter attack while “Ride of the Valkyries” blares from loud speakers is fantastic and Duvall’s nuttiness is a blast. But the movie flies off the rails with one of the most off-the-wall and numbing endings you’ll find. Look, I understand Coppola is saying a lot under the surface, but at some point I want to be entertained when watching a film. The hallucinogenic jungle cult, severed heads, and philosophical mumblings made “Apocalypse Now” a difficult movie for me to finish. I know that the film broke new ground in terms of filmmaking. It also tries to be too clever for it’s own good.

#1 – “AVATAR” (2009)

James Cameron’s box office juggernaut “Avatar” was an unequivocal critical and commercial success. It was nominated for 9 Academy Awards and at the time became the highest grossing movie of all time. Even fellow filmmakers like Steve Spielberg praised the movie comparing it to “Star Wars”. Through all the hype, I sat stunned at all of the obvious flaws that were overlooked and the passes that the movie was given for it’s shortcomings. To start out let me give it a little credit. Technically, “Avatar” is a stunner. It was the first movie to really show 3D as a powerful cinematic storytelling device. The motion capture technology was marvelous and the CGI action sequences were unlike anything I had seen before. But for me that’s all “Avatar” offers. First there’s nothing all that original about the story. It’s basically a sci-fi “Dances with Wolves”. It’s completely predictable and you know exactly how things are going to play out in the first 15 minutes. Then there’s the script. It features some of the silliest, cheesiest  lines particularly from the poorly portrayed military and the evil corporate head. Stephen Lang is laughably bad as the stereotypical soldier gone bad in what may be the worst performance of the decade. The movie also bludgeon’s the audience to death with Cameron’s forced environmental and political preachiness. He slams the military. He slams big corporations. He force feeds us his concepts of planet worship. And all of it is incredibly heavy-handed. Yes, “Avatar” is a technical milestone but you must have a good story to match. Instead, “Avatar” has a crappy story covered with a shiny coat of paint. That’s not enough for me.

So there you have them. 5 movies that have received plenty of praise but that I feel are overrated. I’m sure many disagree with my takes on these films. Please leave you comments about these movies or other popular films that you feel are overrated.