US Release Date: 08-19-2011
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
- Jason Momoa, as
- Stephen Lang, as
- Khalar Zym
- Rachel Nichols, as
- Ron Perlman, as
- Rose McGowan, as
- Said Taghmaoui, as
- Bob Sapp, as
- Leo Howard, as
- Young Conan
- Steven O'Donnell, as
- Nonso Anozie, as
- Raad Rawi, as
- Laila Rouass as
Jason Momoa as Conan the barbarian.
The 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian is a great piece of cinematic fantasy entertainment. Not until The Lord of the Rings came out did a sword and sorcery film surpass it. The reason to remake it must have been solely based on the hopes of starting a revenue making movie series. Made by a small company with a relatively unknown cast and filmed in Bulgaria, it may make back its budget, but I think we are not likely to see a sequel.
The film opens with the birth of Conan. As Morgan Freeman Narrates, Conan was, "Born in battle." I won't give away the details but it is one of the cheesiest scenes of the year. It is intended to be tense and dramatic, but is far to ridiculous to take seriously.
One of Conan's best traits is that he is an enigma. He is big, strong, kicks ass and loves the ladies. He does not seem human. He slays the powerful and lays their daughters. It is all we need to know of him. Hand him a sword and let him set things straight.
This version shows Conan's birth and a key moment in his childhood, when his dad dies. Ron Perlman has far too much screen time. Why would anyone put Perlman in a fantasy film and expect it to be taken seriously? Both Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke were at one time attached to the part. Either would have been a better choice. Hawaiian native Jason Momoa looks as much like Dolph Lundgren or Mickey Rourke as he does Perlman.
The film gets better once Momoa shows up. He looks very much like the graphic novel version of Conan. Many scenes have him posing and scowling in a manner that could have been lifted directly from the comic book page. The director was clearly trying to get his look right. He missteps a couple of times though. In one scene Momoa is in a bar smiling stupidly with a friend. He looks more like a frat boy at a party than a barbarian. At least all the topless girls in the bar may distract you from him.
With its action scenes the movie finds its footing and Momoa convincingly plays a man capable of slaughtering a great number of opponents. When sharing a laugh with his friend he seems too soft, but when he tells the woman he just saved what to do he is the alpha male he is supposed to be. His friends part should have been trimmed as well as Perlman's.
The original Conan found love with a female warrior. Who else could keep up with him? This Conan saves a chick because it stops a bad guy from getting more powerful. They spend time together and he eventually beds her but I never felt they made any kind of connection.
As an action film it will keep you watching. The special effects are meager and clearly the budget was being adhered to. When ever Momoa, with sword in hand, runs into a fight, the movie works. However, the plot is simply that of a man seeking revenge on another man who killed his father. Along the way he meets a girl who means little to him. He fights some guys and a monster. The end.
The most boring films are the ones who leave you cold. Conan is not entirely bad enough to make fun of (the opening scene being an exception) nor is it good enough to rave about. Conan the Barbarian is just another inferior remake that will all too soon be forgotten.
Jason Momoa as Conan
Whenever a fantasy movie opens with a complicated back story explained by a serious narrator, I worry. Even The Lord of the Rings did it, but that movie was good enough and the narration well written enough that they could get away with it (plus they had Cate Blanchett doing the narrating and she could read the phone book in her Galadrial voice and I would be enthralled). This Conan: the Barbarian does it. The first thing we're told is this ridiculous story of a magical mask and how it was splintered into 5 pieces, but there's a prophesy, yada yada yada. It's not only an overused and dumb backstory, but it's too easy. If you need to have a backstory, which you shouldn't for a Conan movie, then just work in the telling of it into the story. Have someone tell Conan and we'll learn it with him. It's a sign of the sloppy writing that permeates this movie.
Following the cheesy opening, we are then taken to the even cheesier scene that you mentioned Eric where we see Conan literally born in battle. It would take a writer/director and actors of far greater skill than the ones gathered here to make that scene work. It takes a while for this movie to recover from this weak one-two opening and had they been removed, the film would have been the better for it.
Eric, in your review you said, "Along the way he meets a girl who means little to him. He fights some guys and a monster." and that line sums up 90% of all of Robert E. Howard's original Conan stories. Although he does occasionally brood in them, he's not a dark character and he's not on some serious life's quest. Why then does everyone who makes a Conan movie insist on putting him on one? Both the Dino De Laurentis Conan and this one insist on putting him on a quest to revenge the death of his family. Conan is a simple adventurer who in the Howard's work was by turns, a thief, a pirate, a mercenary and a king.
They could have improved this version immensely if they'd simply opened it with the first scene of Conan as an adult. We don't need an origin story for Conan and he could have just become involved with taking down Khalar Zym for money. The monks could have hired him to return the pureblood.
The one thing the filmmakers did get right is the look of the film. The costumes, the cities, the swords, the ships and the sets all look as though they were ripped straight from the pages of a Conan story. The only tiny thing that bothered me was that the women are tad too made up and everyone has perfect Hollywood white teeth, but that's just nitpicking. The art direction is easily the best thing going on in this movie. You really could take stills from this movie and drop them in unobtrusively into a Conan graphic novel.
Momoa does look like Conan. Howard constantly describes Conan in two ways; as amazingly strong and as able to move like a panther. Momoa is able to make Conan move in a way Schwarzenegger never was because of his massive size. You can believe that this Conan is a thief as well as a fighter. I also liked Momoa's slightly exotic look, because Conan should be slightly exotic. Giving Conan masses of scars was also a good idea and adds to his look.
Stephen Lang makes a poor villain. Whenever he fights with Conan it looks silly that he's even able to keep up with him. And he looks like he does and yet has a name like Khalar Zym? They couldn't have cast someone a little more exotic? Rose McGowan as Marique was a much better villain and seemed to be one of the few actors in the movie to really capture the right tone.
Like most fantasy films, the biggest problem with this one is the writing. Somehow it took three people to write this. Two of its writers were responsible for 2005's dismal A Sound of Thunder, following which I would have laid money they'd never work again, but yet somebody still thought trusting them with this movie was a good idea.
Despite the movie's many faults, I think I still enjoyed it more than you did Eric. The action is good and there's a lot of it. I wish they would make a sequel. They just need to hire new writers who can leave out the cheese and I would definitely go to see it.
Rose McGowan in Conan the Barbarian.
Since this movie has been out a while now I’m going to mention details of Conan’s miraculous birth. In the middle of a battlefield strewn with corpses, Conan’s dying mother tells his father, “I just want to lay eyes on my son before I die.” His father then proceeds to perform a C-section with one stroke of his blade without so much as looking down to where he is cutting. A split-second later – voila - a healthy baby boy!
I agree with my brothers that Momoa looks like the comic book Conan brought to life (with perhaps just a smidge too much eye make-up), and the rugged terrain of the setting is visually impressive. Scott is also right in pointing out the women all look a bit too Hollywood ready. I never knew they had breast implants in those days.
I also found it a bit hard to swallow when the slight, middle-aged Khalar Zym was able to best Conan in hand to hand combat. It indeed looked silly. Scott (I seem to be agreeing with nearly your entire review) I too thought Marique was much more sinister and the movie’s true villain.
Here’s where I start to agree more with Eric. The script is weak and the dialogue forgettable. The Schwarzenegger version had many quotable lines. I honestly cannot think of one line from this movie worth repeating. I have absolutely no interest in seeing a sequel.
I enjoyed some of the action scenes. The one where they send huge rocks down the side of a hill to free some slaves is good and the fight aboard the ship was the best scene in the movie. But I hated the camera work and editing.
Once again modern cinema confuses constant camera movement and hundreds of quick cuts with art. Anytime I as a viewer am reminded that I’m looking through a camera lens it takes me out of the story. Just keep the camera still for a few seconds please. Or perhaps that will reveal the lousy acting and bad special effects.
Photos © Copyright Nu Image Films (2011)