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Review – Conan the Barbarian (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Zack Snyder’s 300 was the ultimate guy’s film. The movie, essentially, was a two-hour blood bath, as 300 Spartans defended their ancient homeland against a million-strong Persian army during the Battle of Thermopylae (approximately 494 BC). Although devoid of the (inaccurate) historical elements, Conan the Barbarian should be put into the same category of film.

Conan, a beast of a man, relaxed and waiting for his opponent to make the first move, before he slaughtering him.

Conan the Barbarian is loosely based on the novel by Robert E. Howard, and is a remake of the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set in an alternate world called Hyborea (which looks much like Earth in medieval times), the movie centres round Conan, the eponymous character. As a young boy, Conan (Leo Howard – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Shorts, Logan) is trained in the ways of the Samarian warrior cult by his father, Corin (Ron Perlman – Tangled, Season of the Witch, The Riot).

But not long into the movie, Corin is killed before his young son by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang – Public Enemies, Avatar, Officer Down), a megalomaniac determined upon conquering all of Hyborea and reviving his dead wife. Khalar Zym will achieve these feats by putting back together all of the lost pieces of the Mask of Acheron. In time, Khalar also realises that he needs to sacrifice the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerers of Acheron, Tamara (Rachel Nichols – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Star Trek, The Loop), to unleash the mask’s powers in order to take over the world. The balance of Hyborea rests in the sword-wielding abilities of the fully grown, muscular Conan (Jason Mamoa – Baywatch, Game of Thrones, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), who is hell-bent on punishing those who killed his father.

Despite the strange names, the plot for Conan the Barbarian is not difficult to follow. Its rushed introduction has a Lord of the Rings-like feel to it, while the breaking up of the mask reminds one of Voldemort making Horcruxes of his soul in the Harry Potter series.

The villain, Khalar Zym, played by Stephen Lang, the trigger-happy military commander in Avatar.

Aside from this, the movie flows smoothly, and at just under two hours it is the right length for this type of film. Viewers are unlikely to become bored; after-all, a scene rarely goes by without someone (or a handful of people) being slashed to death by the merciless Conan. Just like in 300, there is no shortage of blood spilt by the heroes or villains. (And just like in 300, it beggars belief that in combat the protagonists do not wear armour and live to tell the tale.)

There is little sophistication in Conan the Barbarian’s storyline. Sometimes the simplicity is even comical. (Since when was child birth as trouble-free as sticking a knife into a womb and pulling out a baby, whilst looking away?) Similarly, the director, Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Pacemaker), does not attempt to make the characters anything but two-dimensional (which is not such a bad thing considering the nature of the film). As a result, the acting is far from memorable, and the dialogue is as risible as it was in the virtual disaster movie Season of the Witch.

The acting and the dialogue, though, were never going to be the most noteworthy aspects of Conan the Barbarian. Rather, the movie’s success was also going to lie in the action scenes and the special effects. In both respects, the film does not let the audience down. All the actors look like they were well drilled in swordplay, while imagination and care were certainly put into the CGI.

Marique (Rose McGowan), the witch-daughter of Khalar Zym, who helps her father find the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerors of Acheron.

Additionally, the music score is not terrible either. Even if it sounds much like a combined take-off from The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, the music aids many of the scenes. In some instances, it gives the film the complexity that the acting, dialogue and plot sorely lack.

On the whole, Conan the Barbarian is as straightforward as its title. Just like with 300, Conan the Barbarian is very much a guy’s film. For it has a hulk of a main character, plenty of action, blood, and well-designed CGI. Yes, it has many noticeable and laughable defects, but viewers are unlikely to be bothered by them and will not go home disappointed.

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Review – Rise of the Planet of the Apes (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In the last two hundred and fifty years, there have been revolutions in America, France and Russia, to name three of many. Now, due to the entertaining, if flawed, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there has been an ‘Ape revolution’ to add to that (tragically) long list.

Baby Caesar, the future leader of the ‘Ape revolution.’

The film’s plot centres round Will (James Franco – 127 Hours, Your Highness, Sausage Party) and his incredibly bright pet chimpanzee, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis – The Lord of the Rings I, II & III, Burke & Hare, The Hobbit I ). Will is a scientist, who believes that he has found the cure for Alzheimer’s. He uses data readings from apes – Caesar in particular – to prove it. The cure also increases brain function and intelligence considerably. This enables Caesar to communicate with Will, as well as facilitate the former’s ability to learn compassion and love; not to mention help set up Will with the beautiful Caroline (Frieda Pinto – Slumdog Millionaire, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Immortals).

Nevertheless, the cure also makes Caesar realise that he is different from humans. After being taken into captivity, and being maltreated by Dodge (Tom Felton – The Borrowers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), The Apparition), Caesar uses his brain to the maximum. Then, in a Lenin-like moment, he calls upon all the apes of San Francisco (rather than the workers of the world) to unite and fight back against human rule. Thus, begins the ‘Ape revolution.’ But where will it end?

Dodge (Tom Felton) making sure that all the apes are locked in their cages.

For a little over an hour, the storyline and the dialogue for Rise of the Planet of the Apes is easy to follow, engaging and intelligent. Christopher Wyatt’s (The Escapist) film appears to hold great promise, but, alas, it goes badly off on a tangent for the last forty minutes. Several elements of the movie are left incomplete and unexplained; for example, at the sanctuary there are at most two dozen apes, but when Caesar leads the revolution there are hundreds. Where did they all come from, and how did they all become so intelligent?

The plot may have its flaws, but the acting by Andy Serkis makes the film worth watching. Serkis, in another Gollum-like role (albeit without the schizophrenia and dual-personality disorder), delivers another impressive performance. Using facial expressions, gesticulations and sign language, Serkis gives Caesar some very human characteristics that force viewers to empathise with Caesar’s situation (at least for the majority of the film).

Serkis’ performance is undoubtedly the best of the cast. Nevertheless, James Franco and John Lithgow (Shrek, Dreamgirls, New Year’s Eve), who plays Will’s father, don’t play badly either, even if their roles are not especially challenging. The same, though, cannot be said for Freida Pinto, Tom Felton and David Oyelowo (Derailed, The Last King of Scotland, The Help), who plays as Will’s boss at the laboratory. Again, none of their roles are challenging and they may not have much screen time. But when they do appear, they all have two-dimensional characters that sound awfully contrived. And, in Felton’s case, if he plays a character similar to Draco Malfoy once more he risks being type-casted.

Brotherly love between the fully grown Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) and Will.

With the exception of Serkis, the acting may not be notable. Nevertheless, the music is uplifting and apt for every scene, thereby making the movie that bit more gripping. Similarly, the special effects throughout the film are pretty decent. More often than not, one would believe that it is a real chimpanzee climbing through the trees, rather than it being part-Serkis, part-CGI.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an enjoyable movie. Serkis delivers another sterling performance. With the aid of some brilliant CGI, he is able to give his ape a very human feel. It is a shame for him that most other aspects of the movie are not on the same level. In many ways, Rise of the Planet of the Apes epitomises revolutions in general. It loses its way.

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