Trends in Modern Storytelling in Film: Conan – Actors and Characters (2011)

As I mentioned previously, the 2011 version’s star Jason Momoa actually looks the part of Conan far more than Arnold.  He really does resemble a Vallejo painting quite well.  His choices for his portrayal of the conqueror aren’t bad at all.  He laughs heartily, drinks, brags, threatens all with believability, so why is it that when people say “Conan” the vast majority will say something in an Austrian accent?  Charisma.  Momoa certainly has the attitude and the look but he doesn’t have that “special quality” that Arnold possesses.  It’s no shame, few do, but it’s one of the strongest reasons I think Arnold made a superior Conan.  His presence and persona in the part are just overwhelming.  Add to that the voice, and yes, range Arnie gives his Conan (his exclamation of “you killed my people!” in rage and despair is far more effective than the many anger-filled tirades in the new film voiced in a grumbling hiss through clenched teeth) and this it becomes relatively clear why 1982’s portrayal will endure while 2011’s is classified as more a popcorn film.

Momoa looked very Conan-esque as Drogo in Game of Thrones.

Furthermore since we see so much of Conan’s childhood (a trend I think the film industry needs to start doing without…we see how Michael Meyers, Hannibal Lector, Darth Vader, and Conan become who they are rather than providing glimpses of a backstory and letting either good dialogue flesh them out or leaving it to the audience’s imagination) we see he has changed little from when he was a warrior boy to when he was a warrior adult.  Leaving only modest room for the character to grow and removing the mystique provided so well through montage in the first film.

Momoa’s performance is quite good, but not as larger-than-life as a guy who’s entire life is “larger-than-life” but what of his cast mates? Nonso Anonzie is great as Artus and wins the prize for the secondary character I’d most like to see in a spinoff.  Said Taghmaoui is good as a stereotypical thief but his character is in it with such unusual irregularity you don’t get nearly as attached to him as you do Subotai.  The main female character, Tamara, played by Rachel Nichols is done well, but she falls back into the “chosen one” category that so many characters are in (though “chosen for sacrifice” is less appealing) and has none of the bad-assery of Valeria.  Which only leaves our villains.

Of course Khalar Zym is our bad guy, played well with manic ferocity by Stephen Lang, however when comparing villains we see how much simpler he is as a character to Thulsa Doom.  Not only did his back story require a long pre-title narration, but he IS a skull-smashing, sword wielding, wildman.  He’s the Sonny Corleone of Conan villains to Thulsa Doom’s Michael and it makes you wonder how a cell-block boss like him could maintain power in the intervening decades between Conan’s village being burned and adult Conan’s revenge.

Zym looks more like a crazy villain than did Jones’ Thulsa Doom

This film’s scene is clearly stolen, as was mentioned previously, by Rose McGowan as Marique, who is a far more fascinating villain than Zym.  Not only is she a wicked sorceress with serious Elektra issues, but she is played somehow both as a incredibly creepy and still somewhat sultry by McGowan, who really has to try not to be full-on sultry just standing there in most of her roles.

Rose McGowan is great as Marique, possibly the best character in the film as her background and motivations aren’t always 100% obvious.

2011’s actors all did well with what they were given and made a fun adventure film, but it’s almost as though the bar they were provided was set far lower than in 1982’s outing.  Next post we’ll compare the two methods and see what they both accomplish.