Doesn’t Hit Home Like the Conan We Remember

Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Summary: Conan the Cimmerian travels across Hyboria to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.
Spoilers: none

While few will want to have respect for a remake of a classic like Conan, such a film can change things up, and with the right vision, can earn some brownie points for reviving an old tale with new life for a new generation. Such is unfortunately not the case with 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, starring Jason Momoa as the new meaty barbarian.

Momoa’s Conan wouldn’t be expected to replace Arnold’s biceps-bulging version, but a young, determined piece of
meat for a man like Momoa has the intensity and charisma for the role. He is at least built like a man of the pre-bodybuilding age would look. No dumbbells to sling around here, just crudely made swords, refined in the fires of wooly, dirty blacksmiths.

The movie starts us off with a young Conan as he enters the world from a pregnant mother giving birth to him on a battlefield. There were no expecting mothers armor clothing stores at the time, but Conan comes into the world right at the center of bloody conflict. It’s done to remind the audience, like it often does in the films own showy and prideful way, that this young boy was meant for war.

In his young, zealous days, Conan (Leo Howard) is seen training and killing while a pre-teen. Watching his father (fittingly played by Ron Perlman) craft swords, Conan’s courageous spirit is compared to the fire that fashions the steel, but the boy is in need of balance. Before he can wield a truly awesome blade made by his father, he must learn to use it. What better way than to be put through the “refiner’s fire” of having your village slaughtered?

Just like in the original, this is what happens. His father is killed by a murderous, god-hungry fiend seeking immortality, “Khalar Zym” (Stephen Lang). A soon mature Conan sets out to avenge his father’s death and stop the world from being sucked into a living nightmare of the blood of virgins being used to incarnate hellish god-creatures.

Of course, in a film like this one, you could use phrases like “vials of blood” or “the fifth sign” or “the sacred seal” or “blood” or “vow” or whatever the hell you wanted and it all sounds sacred and warlord-ish, but is senseless talk and really means nothing.

Just give Conan a couple of friends in the form of a wise black dude, “Artus” (Nonso Anozie) who himself kicks some serious ass, and a thief (Saïd Taghmaoui) who is supposed to provide comic relief, and you have two characters that steel more screen-time from our star, Conan. It’s like the director’s lack of faith in his acting skills was such that he didn’t want to show him for too long.

We do know who the focus is supposed to be on, but we don’t really care. This not-so-inspiring tale may rely heavily on the original Robert E. Howard book, The Phoenix and the Sword, playing up Conan’s usurping and thieving nature to go with his size and brute strength, but the effort will largely be lost on audiences.

The movie, which consists of rough facial expressions, mythical talk, and Conan and buddies going around and freeing topless, beautiful slave-girls with a wink and a laugh, has better pacing than the original film and some more determined characters, but this is as far as the compliments go.

The action is cheap, sloppy, and abundantly brutal. The 3D is under-utilized, with only one memorable fight scene sticking in mind, which is the one we see in the previews where Conan takes on magically spawned sand beings.

Nobody behaves much like human beings, or even barbaric human beings. No one seems to carry on any relationship that reverberates as anywhere near normal. Our heroine, the priestess monk, “Tamara” (Rachel Nichols), Conan’s love interest, keeps getting into peril to move the plot along. Her screams are monotonous. The love angle the two are aiming for doesn’t quite take, partly, because the script seems confused as to what direction it wants to go. This is true of the film overall.

And the characters aren’t likable. This gives the movie a highly publicized cable television feel that just isn’t worth the pay-per-view cost to see it. Lang’s “Khalar” may be a bit too much to digest as a lead villain. He’s too narrow in scope, but he goes with a narrow movie. Khalar’s daughter, “Marique,” played exceptionally well by Rose McGowan, is a superb mixture of creepy evil sorceress and dark-themed sexy. Khalar’s right-hand man is “Ukafa” (Bob Sapp) who is a site to see even when not in a UFC ring.

The story has plenty of pointless elements and yet is so proud of what it accomplishes. The hearty laughs, yells, screams, and intense stares assure us we won’t be let down any further if we continue to watch, but we only find more of the same tepid story that never compels us to be surprised or intrigued at really anything.

The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman. It was a determined effort, but ultimately, a no-go. Audiences will not leave feeling satisfied or entertained, which I regret saying since Momoa’s fiery on-screen presence is one thing the film definitely had going for it—in contrast to the film’s underwhelming line-up of supernatural enemies he defeats.


Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: R (for nudity, violence, language, and intense situations)
Director: Marcus Nispel
Starring: “Conan” (Jason Momoa), “Khalar Zym” (Stephen Lang), “Tamara” (Rachel Nichols), “Corin” (Ron Perlman), “Marique” (Rose McGowan), “Ukafa” (Bob Sapp), “Young Conan” (Leo Howard), “Lucius” (Steven O’Donnell), “Artus” (Nonso Anozie)
Genre:  Action / Adventure / Fantasy