Jason Momoa is the only all-the-way good decision made for this movie.

Conan the Barbarian is total bullshit. It is one of the most aggressively bad and boring movies in a summer more full of them than any in recent memory. Thankfully, it seems that audiences agree as the movie is an unequivocal failure financially as well as creatively. Some people are going to say that this movie is “good enough” just because it’s “supposed to be” a dumb action movie with tits, blood, and cavebrow. I’m sorry but no, fucking fuck no. That is not good enough. If you’re satisfied with that, Crom laughs at you and I have no time for you. I’m sure you liked Green Lantern too, didn’t you. I just don’t understand the need to defend stuff that is actually out to make money off of low audience threshold for mediocrity or worse. Conan the Barbarian doesn’t insult our collective intelligence as much as, say, Transformers 3 or Cowboys and Aliens but it isn’t much better and at least those films had stories.

Conan the Barbarian had three fucking writers. Three. And you can bet they were not working together closely as John Milius and Oliver Stone did on the ’82 version. They were hired successively to revise whatever original script existed.

One of them is an admitted script doctor who even wrote a sappy essay in reaction to that the movie he contributed to is a flop. Around the end of the essay he talks about how most of his contributions were left out. And I know why. This movie’s outline is a checklist. The people responsible for rebooting the 1982 version, which is one of the greatest movies of all time, made a lot of noise about presenting an alternate, more Howard-centric version of the character on screen. Instead, they copied some cool iconic bits (mostly to do with the Cimmerian steel stuff) out of the 80’s version and  everything else from Prince of Persia. The guys who made this were under the impression that it’s tits, scowling, big man talk, and blood that makes a movie a Conan movie. All these things are boxes they checked. But none of it has impact because it is not in service to anything grander or interesting, just the same bullshit origin-revenge story as the ’82 movie but with less of everything that made that one’s plot its least important element.

Ron Perlman seems bored in every scene. He usually brings at least some great ham to roles like this but he is completely disinterested and inert as Conan’s father.

I want to try and avoid making this entire review about comparing to the 1982 version. The fact is, I wouldn’t have minded a version of the character, even his origins, that catered a bit more to a modern audience or simply tried to tell a different sort of story. It’s hard to ignore that what we see in the 2011 reboot is basically the same idea as the 1982 one, though, so there goes that.

Our story here is again that some assholes wipe out Conan’s clan and he grows up a warrior who eventually decides to seek revenge against the main asshole, Kalar Zym (Stephen Lang who has nothing interesting to do here). Of course, this is where we begin to notice the kind of jarring, disjointed flow that plagues this movie.

The first 20 or so minutes of Conan’s origin and childhood are filled with silly moments including two of the movie’s fifteen or so bits where someone raises something in the air, the camera arcing upward behind them, and rowwwwrrrrrr. In spite of that, they are singular and you can tell that this stuff made it more or less intact from an earlier version of the script. There are even a few solid bits, Conan fighting the over-the-top-bestial scouts of the impending clan-crushing attack and then bringing the heads to daddy, for example. You could be forgiven if that made you think hey, all those critics and people bad-mouthing this terrible fucking movie might actually be, if not wrong, then overstating it. You could be forgiven for thinking this was one of those times where your lowered expectations, based on all you’ve heard, have benefited your experience. You could be forgiven, but you won’t need to be because once we meet adult Conan, the coherence of the plot mechanics play second fiddle to running us through as many pointless action scenes as possible.

And I’m serious, only the first and last fights in this movie are remotely interesting on a story level and the movie doesn’t stop having fights pretty much ever. Some might look at this as a plus. It is not. The last fight, while starting out and ending okay, has a middle bit on a wheel stuck at the bottom of a broken tower and suspended over a hundreds-foot drop that feels like a set-piece from Pirates of the Caribbean. They even swing around on chains. That sort of shit works in a Pirates movie. It is not a good idea here and goes to show how Conan the Barbarian constantly borrows from other movies, most of which suck, rather than trying to be anything fresh or new.

The character design and costumes are actually pretty decent but the lack of cohesion in the world-building, which should have been easy, leaves it all fairly weightless in context.

Although the fights are boring and sometimes fairly random, which didn’t have to be a problem if the movie wasn’t so obviously trying to kill time, Jason Momoa is very convincing as Conan. He makes that sword a part of his arm, and although there’s a bit too much twirly shit and entirely fucking too much stabbing it into the ground (he stabs his sword into the ground like 150 times), there are moments where you actually feel like you’re watching a master swordsman at work which fits. He isn’t given very many interesting things to say and his incidental misogyny comes off much less nuanced than it should. The character as written isn’t any better an adaptation of Howard than Arnie’s ever was, and in most ways much worse. This isn’t on Momoa’ though. He’s just given almost zero to work with.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just Conan against various bad guys. No that it should have been, but the alternative as presented here is just dismal. First there’s Conan’s Random Black Pal who seems to be the captain of some pirates Conan is allied to. These may be the Black Corsairs from the books, but they never call him Amra, I don’t think Black Pal is ever given a name, and all their buddies are just there to be extraneous. Then there’s Ela-Shan (Said Taghmaoui) who has to be the worst executed of all incidental sidekicks in fucking history. Conan saves him from slavers, their main guard being one of Kalar Zym’s former followers (so at least there’s some plot connection!) and he shouts out instructions to seek him out if he ever wants to do the exact thing they’re going to later in the movie. It’s like the editors knew this was bad, making sure some loud score overlapped with the lines so that they are barely audible. Then, later, Conan tracks the guy down and they break into Kalar Zym’s base together and, his purpose ended, the “character” is summarily dismissed by both Conan and the movie. It’s fucking baffling.

There are no characters in this movie, just people in costumes reciting bad lines and swinging plastic weapons at each other.

The absolute worst, though, are the only two female “characters” in the film. One of them is Tamara, the MacGuffin of the movie and the key to Zym’s big bad ambitions. She is some kind of monk or something, a better movie would have given her an actual backstory, and is the last pure descendant of a civilization of necromancers whose powers Zym wants to use to resurrect his dead sorceress wife who can then blah blah, yawn yawn. Seriously. Anyway, Tamara is played by Rachel Nichols in as overly-formal and bland a way as possible. She is not interesting, even though they try to make her a foil for Conan (I guess that was the idea?). She delivers all her lines in the same formal, bored way that Gemma Aterton did with similar characters in Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans. I found her so bad that when Conan drops her off at the end of the movie to go out and continue being the pre-historical James Bond he’s supposed to be, I wanted to fucking cheer.

If you have to have a bonafide love interest in a Conan movie, please don’t crib from other shitty “sword and sandals” movies made in the last 3 years. I mean fuck.

Conversely, Rose MacGowan is also bad but in a different way. She is going so goddamn broad that it’s difficult to track her performance and she seems drastically out of place. There’s something goofy about her that feels anachronistic, even though I think she was trying her ass off to be an unsettling, psychopathic little witch-bot. Her look is pretty great, though, except I think they CGI’d her eyebrows out which is just fucking weird. In any case, because of a combination of factors she is as bad as Nichols but maybe salvaged a bit by that she is at least trying to do something colorful with her character, which maybe works so poorly because she is surrounded by bland. She also seems to earnestly want to fuck her dad, which is kind of crazy and if given more of a central place in their, and I hesitate to call it this, character development it could have coalesced into something approaching interesting. But no. It’s just sort of there and only just enough that a lot of people won’t even catch it, but this is not subtlety. It’s sloppiness.

Also sloppy are the small army of tits-out models/wannabe actresses that they assembled for this. The nudity is so gratuitous that it rankles. Some people are gonna be like “sweet, tits” and I’d like to agree but every now and then I have to think about tits. I’m sorry, I have to. And here I was thinking, what is the point? Just to show some titties? Even in Hyborean drag, a bunch of skinny bitches making a couple grand on their jigglypuffs are still exactly that. The nudity is meaningless, meant to attract “aww yeah” high-fiving from fratboys and idiots who get off on big ripped men surrounded by beautiful women they can talk down to, insult, and possess. I get that Conan’s world is a harsh one to women, that the character was ever the opposite of post-Feminist hyper-masculine heroes who still found time to treat women like equals (wait, are there any of these even!?) but the movie doesn’t bother to texturize this appropriately. Instead, it’s just Conan and random cronies hanging around in winesinks surrounded by bitches and cheering each other on for being muscular and swinging their steel cocks around. It’s the vacuousness of this that bothers me, the utterly vacant and pandering way it comes across, whatever was intended.

The claws are kind of a nice touch. Too bad they couldn’t resist giving her a few Freddy Kreuger moments. Sigh.

At the very least, this iteration of Conan the Barbarian should have had the balls to go absolutely bonkers. There are some shards of a truly crazy sensibility here and there, but they are overwhelmed by all the bad. Things like Conan’s birth scene and Marique (Rose MacGowan)’s girl-boner for her father are just crazy enough to work in a movie that actually cleaves to those elements. Instead, the disjointed way Conan arrives at his quest for revenge, the poorly handled barely-there side characters, and the laughable attempt at theme attempted via the one time Ron Perlman talks about what makes a Cimmerian warrior and chastises Conan for emphasizing the “fire” instead of the “ice” (a nice call back to Franzetta but a bit that should have been excised for its incidental connection to Game of Thrones).

I do have to come back to Momoa here. He has written an outline for a possible sequel. I hope he is as good at writing as he is at convincing swordplay (emphasis on play, which really works for the character.. he’s a bit like Willow‘s Mad Martigan). Someone needs to put him on camera swinging a sword around again, and soon, because he was kind made for it. If served by a better script, better directing, and better everything else, I think Jason Momoa is an actor who could shine in material from this genre and really take up the mantle left behind by Arnie and never taken up again. The best modern-day Conan we’ve had was Vin Diesel’s Riddick and unfortunately, that character was not rewarded by the attempt to really make his story Howardian (but in space!).

I don’t think his potential lies with a Conan the Barbarian sequel, though. Let’s face it, there isn’t going to be one. And that’s too bad, in one way, because it’d be nice to get some more Howard properly on film. Solomon Kane was garbage and there has yet to be a decent Tarzan movie aside from Disney’s and maybe Greystoke (which I haven’t seen). While the John Milius-directed 1982 film is, seriously, the fucking tits… it isn’t generally considered to be very true to Howard’s overall intention with the character.

So yeah, I’m up for a fresh take but it isn’t this. This is Conan for Affliction-wearing faux-metalheads who like Sons of Anarchy and UFC for all the wrong reasons. This is Conan for people so dumb they don’t object to Hollywood’s near-constant betrayal of our time and money in exchange for increasingly inferior products. If this was the best modern-day Conan we could hope for, I’d be less optimistic about the state of our culture. Thankfully, Jason Momoa already proved in Khal Drogo, if seen as a Conan-like character, that it isn’t the best we can hope for. It’s just the best we can expect from Hollywood if we don’t continue to show them we’re getting tired of trading our faith for bullshit. If box office trends continue to reflect that change of paradigm as they have begun to this year, then perhaps we’ll get the Conan we deserve in a few years and hopefully in time for Jason Momoa to reprise the role because I really do want to see him take it on with better material to work with.

The failure of this movie is not this man’s fault. In Conan the Barbarian 2011, we’re given what could be considered a teaser for what would be possible if only more creativity, care, and faith in the audience were present.