Take away much of the myth, most of the sorcery and all the humor of the 1982 John Milius-Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the sword and sorcery epic Conan the Barbarian, and you have an idea what the new Conan is like.
It has a better actor as star, Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones). It has better sword play. It even has 3-D. But lose the legend of Conan and you've lost the plot.
This Conan is "battle born," a child ripped (literally) from his mother's womb as she lies dying from wounds suffered in combat. The child-ripping scene is one of the movie's "oh, no, they didn't" moments.
This Conan is a headstrong warrior, a killer even at middle-school age. Not that they had middle schools in the Hyborian Age, the era of barbarians.
After his father's is killed by an evil sorcerer/dark lord (Stephen Lang), Conan cuts a wide swath through this dark epoch, slaughtering, wenching, leading a merry band of muscle-bound mugs on land and sea, all while hunting for the nameless thug and his witchy daughter (Rose McGowan) who killed Dad (Ron Perlman).
It's a digitally enhanced road trip without a laugh along the way. He frees a thief (Said Taghmaoui) and passes through assorted mythic quest signposts, some of which you'll recognize from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
And he interferes with the villain's quest by taking up with "the pure blood," a lady monk colorlessly played by Rachel Nichols. Our bad guy needs to rebuild a shattered ritual mask and spill "pure blood" on it to become omnipotent.
At least McGowan, given skimpy outfits and Freddy Krueger fingers, manages a little comical shiver every time she tastes the blood of an innocent.
And Conan? "I live. I love. I slay. I am content," he growls. If only we could say the same — the "content" part, I mean.
What Hollywood macho man and writer-director Milius gave the muscle-bound warrior in 1982 was a more compelling back story (years in slavery) and a more compelling narrative quest, all delivered with a wink and a leer. The leer is still evident in this film from the director of the latest version of Friday the 13th, Marcus Nispel. We're no more than 45 seconds into Morgan Freeman's dull, stentorian narration before we see the first topless damsel.
Momoa cuts a fine figure of a Conan. I'll bet he could have handled a little humor as well, but hiring writers from the god-awful Dylan Dog: Dead of Night meant he was pretty much on his own.
Lang is aging into a generic villain, forcing his voice into a growl as if that will save lines that state the obvious: "The mask is complete!"
At least Perlman, in a few scenes, has dialogue worthy of the Robert E. Howard tale. He makes his boy a sword.
"Before you wield it, you must understand it," he lectures, even if the kid isn't listening. Someday, though, Conan will learn "the Mystery of Steel."
And someday somebody's going to figure out that you can spend all you want on 3-D, locations and topless extras, but Conan isn't Conan without the lyrical words that capture the barbarian and his barbaric age.