“Conan the Barbarian” hits theaters this week in the second attempt to capture the brutal fantasy of Robert E. Howard’s series of books. Rebooting a derelict franchise isn’t a popular idea these days, (okay, maybe it’s the only popular idea these days) but the presence of Jason Momoa in the titular role is sure to draw some disapproving clucks from some fantasy nerds who feel the role belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The original 1982 release of “Conan the Barbarian” was a star-making role for the Governator who had before been confined to minor roles as muscle-bound morons with speech impediments. Conan began the meteoric rise of one of the ’80s premier action heroes, because it turns out no one gives a damn about how bad of an actor you are or how poor of a grasp you have on the English language as long as your delts pop when you’re swinging a sword or indiscriminately firing a high powered machine gun from the hip.
Momoa, much like Arnold in 1982, hasn’t yet gained action hero status. Some might recognize him from his role as Khal Drogo on the HBO series “Game of Thrones” or even further back for his work on “Baywatch.” The hardcore fantasy nerd will remember Momoa from his role on “Stargate: Atlantis,” but if you’re unfamiliar with this part of his body of work it’s probably better to remain that way.
So maybe Momoa has some acting chops, and maybe he’s already scored some nerd cred with his Stargate role, but is any of this really necessary? Seems like the requirement for the role isn’t really anything beyond a sweet bod and a gruff inflection in which to say: “I want your head.” No, the thoughtful barbarian that drove Robert Howard’s series of pulp fantasy novels isn’t really a part of the modern film adaptations, and Momoa looks to be at home decapitating his way through a senseless action flick.
The original “Conan” has garnered status as a cult classic, and thusly has a well entrenched fan base that will claim the movie is somewhat more than what it is: a passably violent sword and sorcery action flick – as well as one of Oliver Stone and James Earl Jones’ low points. The franchise has surpassed the original film, spinning into the world of comics and video games, most recently in an ill-fated massively multiplayer online role-playing game, so maybe it’s time we forgot about the original Conan movie. Who knows maybe some day Jason Momoa will become governor because of the film, but I’m pretty sure ” Predator” is what did it for Arnold, just look at Jesse Ventura.