So, I just watched the recent remake of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Conan the Barbarian. I always liked the original film for all it’s daft 13 year old boy swords and sorcery fantasy gubbins. It’s probably one of the best fantasy films of the last 30 odd years on account of it really playing up the campyness of the genre and not taking itself too seriously whilst not attempting to parody the genre.
Needless to say I was looking forward to the remake staring Jason Momoa that was released earlier this year. From seeing the adverts it looked like it wasn’t going to be as camp as the original but I was looking forward to a good dark and ‘grity’ fantasy action romp.
It started well with some scenes of awesome brutality from the moment of Conan’s birth and continues throughout scenes of his childhood. Conan is literally ‘born of battle’ as his mother slaughters the man who murders her as she is giving birth in the middle of a battle. Ron Perlman is great as Conan’s father teaching his son the secrets of steel and Leo Howard is fantastic as teenage Conan. In fact he was probably the best thing about this movie.
Unfortunately from the point where we move to Conan’s adult incarnation things begin to go rapidly down hill. It is shot really well, the action sequences are, again, fantastic and the fight scenes are really well coordinated. Unfortunately the movie is completely ruined by the films utter contempt for all the female characters coupled with the character Conan’s rampant misogyny. The women in the film are either “whiney bitches”, “whores”* or just plain evil.
This being a Conan film I wasn’t expecting it to pass the Bechdel test but ffs! I would have no problem with the female characters being all of the things listed above, it kinda fits with the Conan theme, but to make a film that is as utterly devoid of female characters with… well, character is just beyond the pale. The original film featured Sandahl Bergman as the kick ass warrior-thief Valeria.
She is replaced, in the modern film, with Tamara Amalia Jorvi-Karashan played by Rachel Nichols. Where, in the original, Valeria plays the role of Conan’s equal in all ways. She fights, she steals and does exactly what she needs to do to survive in the world whilst having a good time whilst she’s at it.
Tamara on the other hand merely exists to be ordered around by men, despite occasional hints at resistance which amount to sticking her jaw out, she always complies with doing what she is told. That and to get kidnapped and scream a lot whist generally being completely unable to look after herself in the big bad world without Conan to help her/tell her what to do. At least the whores in the film are able to look out for themselves.
Add to this the character of Conan the Barbarian. In both films he is a sexist macho character, he is Conan the Barbarian after all. However in the original film his sexism is challenged by the character of Valeria who challenges all his preconceptions about women and kicks his arse in a fight. At no point in this film does Conan’s sexism, which amounts to misogyny in places, get challenged. In fact Conan seems to fall for Tamara because she is so useless.
This film should be congratulated for one thing though. They have managed to do something that I would have thought impossible. They have remade an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film from the early 1980’s and have actually managed to give it worse gender politics. So well done lads…
Ach well, at least it gives me an excuse to repost this. 😀
*Not that I have anything against sex workers. I am merely using that word to reflect the depiction of the women in the film. So please take that as a criticism of the film makers rather than supporting of anti-sex worker attitudes.