Unreal Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian

3 out of 5 stars

Everything you need to know about Conan the Barbarian you can learn in the first few minutes. A baby resting in a womb all of a sudden is staring at a swordpoint in its face. His mother has been mortally wounded in battle, and her husband, the tribe chieftain comes over to give her a field cesarean with his knife. He pulls the squirming bloody baby out of her torso and thrusts it in the air while yelling out toward the heavens.

Laughter abounds in the audience.

It’s up to you to decide whether Conan is the good or bad kind of absurd. There are some moments like the one above where you can’t help but laugh at it, but others where the over the top testosterone feels welcome.

After his battlefield birth, Conan (Jason Momoa) grows up to be quite a little badass. As a tween he’s already slaying bad guys, but unfortunately his prowess is stunted when his village is raided by Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang), a power hungry conqueror set on world domination. His plan involves using his witch daughter (Rose McGowan) to sniff out pieces of an ancient mask powered by the pure blood of a certain strain of royal women. The last piece is hidden in Conan’s village, and his father (Ron Perlman) must sacrifice himself defending it as Conan watches.

Where has Stephen Lang been all these years where he’s now all of a sudden the go to villain for everything?

Twenty years later, Conan has sprouted like a redwood and spends his time alternating between hunting Zim and doing random acts of do goodery like freeing topless slaves. In the meanwhile, Zim has been scouring the continent for the pureblood girl he needs, which says that his daughter’s sixth sense could use some fine tuning if it’s taken her 20 years to even get a whiff. Also slowing down the journey is Zim’s inexplicable need to travel in the hull of a giant ship transported across land by elephants. It’s assumed this vessel will somehow play into the larger plot, but its presence is never actually explained.

Conan unsurprisingly crosses paths with the pureblood in question, a young priestess (Rachel Nichols) who knows nothing of her ancestry. Together they join forces with Conan’s band of pirates and thieves to take on Zim and throw a stone in the gears of his plan for godlike ascension.

Conan as a film, and as a man, never lets up. I’ve seen more violent movies perhaps, as the variety of kills you’ll see here are mostly typical sword stabs and limb hacking, but in terms of pure volume of fight scenes, I think the film is unmatched. There is never more than four or five minutes of downtime between every new battle, and so I guess you can say the film delivers what it promises, nonstop bloody carnage.

Despite the way it looks, she is not actually a zombie.

But what it lacks is a story that’s in any way unpredictable. From my brief plot outline above, you can easily guess what happens, and there just isn’t a single surprise to be found in the plot. It’s probably best compared to another recent sword and sorcery epic, Prince of Persia, but with gallons more blood and a lead who doesn’t need to bother with trying to be charming.

One thing I got out of Conan was that I expect Jason Momoa to become a full fledged action star any day now. Not that the movie was good, but just seeing him onscreen, he possesses the rare combination of having an absolutely mammoth muscular build and I’ll say it, being a very good looking guy. This is opposed to say, Arnold or Stallone, who had the giant build, but had faces more suited for radio, yet still found huge success in the genre.

Unfortunately, Momoa hasn’t really been given a chance to prove himself in terms of acting ability, as now his two most memorable roles consist of Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones, where he averaged two lines per episode in a made up language, and now Conan, where the most profound line he’s given is “I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.” But expect him to start cropping up in many action films to come, as I think he’s unique enough to stand out and stick around. And I think when they do finally make that God of War movie, we’ve definitely found our Kratos.

Conan the Barbarian is as thickheaded of a movie as you can get, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entirely unwatchable. It’s far from an action classic like the film that it remakes, but it’s not the unmitigated disaster most would have you believe either. You’ll watch, you’ll laugh, you’ll grimace and you’ll be content.

3 out of 5 stars

Today I learned Jason Momoa’s eyebrow scar is actually real.


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