Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

In a time before Atlantis sank (aka The Hyborean Age) a young Cimmerian boy named Conan is educated in the ways of warriors by his father. Born literally in the blood of battle, Conan becomes the last survivor of his tribe when a mysterious warlord slaughters everyone there to find the missing piece of a mask of necromancy. Conan grows up to become a sword-wielding muscle-bound hero who fights to free slaves, eat, drink, have sex, and get revenge on those who killed his people…

I’m probably not the ideal audience for Conan; I rarely read the comic or Robert E. Howard’s books, and due to an abiding disinterest in Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve not seen either of the previous movies completely. On the other hand, I should be the ideal audience for a reboot because I like fantasy, swordplay, cinematic carnage, elaborate costumes, and large muscular semi-naked men.

A full 25 minutes of the film’s 112-minute running time are taken up with young Conan, so it’s nice that Leo Howard acquits himself well in that role, playing off the gravelly-but-good Ron Perlman as his father in what appears to be a Clan of the Cave Bear costume cast-off. Jason Mamoa essays the role of Conan for the rest of the film, and despite his immense size and muscles, he moves well and quickly, enabling the stunt shots to hold on him longer than if he were in a Michael Bay film. He’s also much more enjoyable to watch and to listen to than the disgraced ex-governor of California ever was.

Stephen Lang is the lead villain, Khalar Zym, while a nearly unrecognizable Rose McGowan plays his adult witch daughter. While Lang is serviceable in the role, McGowan must have learned a thing or two about creepy in her time as Marilyn Manson’s paramour since she outcreeps everything else on screen, whether that be a horde of sand demons she raises or an underwater tentacled menace. When her father doesn’t succumb to her neo-incestual overtones, you actually think “Good choice, mate.”

Overall, the production values, sets, and costuming are exceptional, and the direction and stuntwork are fast-moving and involving. Those viewers with a love of grue will find blood flowing in vast supply, in a generally more realistic manner than the 300-influenced stylized hyperviolence of too many sword movies of late. The script is serviceable, but a great example of what bores me about Conan in general; there’s just not much there, there. It also has a near-complete lack of anything remotely humorous or emotional to relieve the hacking and slashing.

At one point, Conan says, “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” If you want deep characterization, or a plot you haven’t seen before, this isn’t your sword-slinger. However, if a movie in which a large muscular semi-naked man lives, loves, and slays will make you content, Conan won’t disappoint.

Verdict: Conan The Barbarian delivers exactly what a Conan fan would want: muscles, swords, blood, sorcery, costumes, fights, a random half-naked woman or two, and a plot you’ve probably seen or read dozens of times. For those who might want a more cerebral fantasy, semi-naked Jason Momoa also stars in Game of Thrones  5/10

Andy Mangels

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Starring Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Bob Sapp, and Ron Perlman.

In Theatres Now



One thought on “Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

  1. The sad thing is Robert E. Howard’s original stories are completely unlike the waves of dull, insipid, uninspired dreck that followed, and are some of the most influential and excellent fantasy stories of the 20th Century. “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content” in its original context was one of the most profound and fascinating philosophical passages in the Conan stories, so for it to be interpreted in the opposite way breaks my heart.

    You can get muscles, swords, blood, sorcery, costumes, fights, a random half-naked woman or two, and a plot you’ve probably seen or read dozens of times in every other dime-a-dozen Sword-and-Sorcery adventure. Conan offers something different, and this film far from delivers.

    Posted by alharron | September 21, 2011, 4:39 pm

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