[Review] Conan the Barbarian and Cowboys & Aliens

I’ve been back from Empire Presents… BIG SCREEN for well over a week and I still haven’t finished all my reviews. With this in mind, prepare for a double whammy: Conan the Barbarian and Cowboys & Aliens. I wasn’t hugely impressed by either of them, and would recommend them as rentals rather than full price trips to the cinema.

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Dir: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan

When I was younger I did see 1982’s Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I don’t really remember that much about the plot. I remember what he looked like, however! Long hair, big muscles, strange headband… Jason Momoa’s Conan has two of those trademarks. For some reason the headband didn’t make the cut, though.

When the movie begins there is a voiceover explaining that Conan was born in war. The scene then cuts to a roughly 10 years later, where the young Conan is being educated by his father, a Cimmerian lord, about the importance of steel to their people. However, their lesson is cut short as an invading warlord destroys their village. Jump forward to a now-adult Conan and he is on a quest to seek revenge for his father and their people.

While Momoa certainly looks the part, unfortunately the movie leaves you disappointed. It wasn’t the fact that it was testosterone overload – I was expecting that – it just wasn’t as mythical as I was hoping. Rose McGowan’s witch, Marique, is fairly entertaining but doesn’t quite cut it. She has some pretty good action sequences but they’re few and far between. The majority of the action scenes involve, of course, Conan. In my opinion, this is the only thing that Momoa’s Conan is good at.

I guess this isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s an action flick through and through and fits the genre very well. While it is limited in terms of story and character development, it is packed full of blood and gore. If you do decide to see it at the cinema, leave your brain at the door.

★★

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Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Dir: Jon Favreau
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

Back in November 2010 I posted about the brand new trailer for this movie. Take a look here. As you can tell, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Somebody commented saying: “It will either be great or utter rubbish!” Unfortunately, I think it falls in the latter category.

The movie is set in the Wild West, c.1880s. An unnamed man (Daniel Craig) wakes in the desert and appears to have lost his memory. When threatened, one thing does return to him: his ability to fight. He wanders in to the town of Absolution, where he is recognised as the outlaw, Jake Lonergan.

Enter Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a rich and influential cattleman, who is in town to reclaim who son who had been arrested for fighting. He also wants Jake, who stole his gold. However, during the stand off, alien spaceships begin attacking the town, and the sheriff, plus many other residents, are abducted…

That synopsis does sound good and, admittedly, to a point the movie is good. It’s when it starts becoming extra complicated by adding in other aliens, plus a complicated backstory as to why the aliens are here and what they do to the people they abduct, that I realised it wasn’t as good as I was hoping.

In my opinion, Craig is the best part of the movie. He fits the role of cowboy very well and certainly looks the part. The townsfolk are a motley crue and, in their own ways, are quite entertaining. There’s a young orphaned boy, the sheriff’s grandson, to pull on your heart strings as well as Doc, the local bar owner who believes he didn’t look after his wife enough. Pretty standard characters but, they do work.

What’s lacking is the ‘fun’ element, though. Perhaps a wise cracking sidekick would have helped but, alas, jokes are few and far between. Kudos to Jon Favreau for attempting to make a serious piece about cowboys and aliens but sadly, it just doesn’t work. Humour is necessary in movies if just to provide some light relief…

To be honest, it was always an ambitious project. Maybe in a couple of years someone else will have a go. If they do, I’d suggested keeping the aliens as an invisible threat – don’t ever fully reveal them as this would increase the thrill element.

★★½

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7 thoughts on “[Review] Conan the Barbarian and Cowboys & Aliens”

  1. I haven’t seen Conan yet. I did see Cowboys and Aliens at the Weekend, I actually enjoyed it. It has its problems but on the whole it worked. I liked the fact that it played out like a regular western whose characters encounter aliens and some steam punk world like Wild Wild West or Jonah Hex. My recommendation for films currently on release, The Guard. By far the best film I have seen in months.

    1. I really, really want to see The Guard. I’ve had very good things and I’ve had a soft spot for Brendan Gleeson since In Bruges.

      I did like the way the cowboys fought the aliens, and I think it was a nice touch adding the Indians and joining forces. Do you rate Jonah Hex then? I never saw it…

      1. No, I missed a word out that changed the context of what I was trying to say. It should have read: “and not some steam punk world like Wild Wild West or Jonah Hex”. Jonah Hex is terrible, although not as bad as some people would have you believe.

  2. Cowboys & Aliens was average but still totally watchable. I loved the first 30 minutes when it’s almost purely a western. Then the aliens come and it’s all downhill from there. And don’t get me started on Olivia Wilde’s character!

  3. Cowboys & Aliens was a revelation to me – as a lover of Westerns and Sci-Fi I expected to hate it as a travesty of the genres – but surprise, surprise, I found it worked for me! I think it was because it was played straight, not tongue in cheek. I thought the whole thing looked great, loved the sequence at the begining with the 3 scalp hunters, and Craig was excellent thoughout.

    Harrison Ford came in for some critic’s stick, but again I found the performance convincing – made me wish he’d done a straight Western rather than just Star Wars. I confess I didn’t see anything wrong with Olivia Wilde’s character either – she was an alien and who knows what aliens would be like – reminded me of the real Calamity Jane (ie not the film versions)…

  4. I have to agree with you on both films. As you know I hated C&A and Conan wasn’t much better in my opinion. Ah well. I still will have to go back and see Conan again at cinema as Lyn wants to see his perfectly formed……er…..um…BUM!!

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