Unreal Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian

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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  1. I haven’t seen Game of Thrones so I don’t know how prevalent his character actually is, but Jason Momoa joined the cast of Stargate:Atlantis early in season 2 and was a main character thru the end of the series. Granted most of his scenes had little dialog other than screaming and getting pissed off but you could still see the action movie potential.

  2. I’ve only seen him in two things, Game of Thrones and Stargate: Atlantis and unfortunately he barely said a word in either of them. Seriously he was in 78 episodes of SG: A and i’ll bet you could fit all his lines onto 3 pages of script, he only took part in fighting scenes and the rest of the time he’d be standing in the background looking sexy. :>

    BUT I think he has the potential to do more than just action roles, judging from interviews he’s also quite smart, witty and polite.

  3. Yeah I remember him from Atlantis as well but like you said he had little chances in it to show off his acting ability so I just assumed he didn’t have any other than his physique.

  4. I’m going tonight with around 20 rugby players from my team after we drink many beverages at the bar. I think that this movie is absolutely perfect for the drunk group of guys segment of the population.

  5. “It’s far from an action classic like the film that it remakes”

    It’s not a remake/reboot, though. That’s like saying RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes films are remakes of the Basil Rathbone ones, or Disney’s Tarzan is a remake of the Christopher Lambert version.

  6. Paul I’m curious, have you read any of the Robert E. Howard
    Conan books (or ones by other authors) at all?

    This movie was not meant to be a remake of the Arnie ones,
    it is [i]supposed[/i] to be a somewhat faithful retelling/mishmash of
    the original source material. Something which Arnie’s version
    most certainly was not.

    The battlefield birth for example. Conan was in fact born on the battlefield. I have not yet seen this one, but it looks like you
    may quite possibly be ignorant of the spirit this movie was made in.

    I am expecting it to be a let down, but I do believe they tried to be
    more loyal to the source material than the movies which you are comparing this one to.

  7. Apologies for the double post, I just thought I’d add that
    I do not see why they didn’t just pick the story of Conan
    as the king with the troubled brow for the movie, instead of
    yet another childgrowsupandseeksrevengeforhisslainparents one.

    Or any of the ones where Conan commands a large army.

  8. Thx so much, Paul! After so many bad reviews it is quite a relieve that you gave a solid 3 out of 5 stars, even though it seems you havent read the books and wrongly designate the movie as a remake of the Arnie flick. I totally agree with invictus here. Because opposed to the reviews of the self proclaimed movie experts I actually give a shit about your opinion. You seem to have a good taste when in comes to movies…if there even is such a thing…

    And yes, Diego, I think the whole Conan thing is meant for us beer drinking manly mans. 😉

    Still stubbornly looking forward to this.

    They never made Conan3 with Arnold so that HAS to be my reimbursement!

  9. While I enjoyed the movie a great deal, I must admit that it felt like a mediocre adaptation of great source material. I’ve never read any of the original Conan material, but watching the movie, it felt like there were a large number of very interesting characters that had a lot more story behind them that needed to be told.

    I also considered this to be a 3 star movie, but I feel that it had the potential to be a 4 star, if only it had taken a little time to flesh out the characters more.

  10. I liked the arnie Conan films, but this new guy looks too emo to be Conan. Every shot I have seen of him has him pulling a silly face trying to be hard. Plus he doesn’t have the muscle build like Arnie did (like most modern “muscle” men).

  11. OTWarrior: Yeah but he is in fact more true to the books. He could have trained harder for more muscles…right, but then Schwarzenegger was Mr.universe…nothing any actor could easily achieve just for a role ^^ Plus they said (flimsy excused) that they wanted to emphasize his panther-like agility more… ^^

  12. I hope Jason moves on to better things. He’s a genuinely great guy; very personable and friendly. Little hints in both Stargate: Atlantis and Game of Thrones indicate he can do more than ‘big, muscled, uncouth & deadly’. I hope he gets the chance to show it.

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