[Review] Conan The Barbarian (2011) by Dan McIntosh

Director: Marcus Nispel
Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Stephan Lang

The Film:
Chances are that unless you have been living under a rock all your life or are under the age of 20 then you would more than likely would have heard of the name Conan the Barbarian. How could you not have? I mean the character was brought to life on the silver screen by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold brought the character to life in 1982 in the feature film Conan the Barbarian and subsequently reprised the role in Conan the Destroyer. The character of Conan was the brain child of writer Robert E. Howard in 1932. Conan now happily lives at Dark Horse comics. I am not familiar with the character beyond the original Schwarzenegger movies, and even then they are vague to my memory, however from a visual and basic origin story perspective the film certainly reflects the comic’s stories in good faith. Like many other characters from popular fiction, they have enjoyed several renditions of the characters basic origin story. This chapter in the characters long history is no different.

The movie begins by establishing the threat of the film in the way of a mystical mask that was fabricated from the bones of the fallen kings of Hyboria. The wearer was granted the power to become emperor of Hyboria. The Mask was subsequently destroyed by the sword of a barbarian from Cimmeria and its pieces scattered about the land. Skip forward to the birth of our main character and the explanation of our hero’s origin. Conan was born of the battlefield in what can only be described as a very Star Wars Episode III birth and naming sequence. I was kind of expecting him to be called Luke. He is subsequently raised by his father (Ron Perlman) in the village of Cimmeria. In what can only be described as a barbarian version of karate kid growing up montage sequence, a young Conan proves he is worthy enough to join the ranks of the other barbarians of the village. The training montage continues in what can only be described as a very Batman begins training sequence with his father to show that whilst he is a skilful warrior, Conan is still very much rash and impulsive. At this point we are subsequently introduced to the movies antagonist, the ruthless warlord Khalar Zym (Stephan Lang) and his daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) who coincidently is the spitting image of her mother who was introduced in the beginning of the movie as a sorcerer. Khalar has come looking for the last remaining bone fragment of the mask which Conan’s father Corin has been the custodian of all this time. In cookie cutter mould fashion Conan is forced to witness his father’s demise at the hands of Khalar, thus forcing Conan to swear to avenge his father’s death.


We now skip ahead approximately 20 years where we learn that Conan (Jason Momoa) has essentially been roaming the country side freeing enslaved people. Why? I don’t know. I mean while we are borrowing from everything else, we may as well throw in some Robin Hood while we’re at it. All the while our antagonist is questing after a pure blood for her blood. This is the final piece of the puzzle he requires to unleash the power of the mask and resurrect his dead misses. What constitutes a pure blood? Buggered if I know, it’s never explained. One might be tempted to think it would imply virginity but alas, that is not it; Conan sees to that! Eventually our hero and pure blood, a.k.a. Tamara, a.k.a. damsel in distress cross paths and our real journey begins. What will ensue is the typical initial protagonist antagonist initial showdown where our hero is taught a bit of a lesson that while yes he is generally a bad ass, he still rash and impulsive and if he is to overcome his nemesis he needs to be more level headed. We will ignore the fact that at this point Khalar is probably around 60 and can hand a 30 year old their ass with a minimal help from his daughter. Despite this, Conan’s cunning which seems somewhat more accidental than true cunningness enables our hero to escape with our damsel. In what can only be described as Pirates of the Caribbean on another world we have some more action followed by the obligatory sex scene with our hero and now heroine. Queue kidnapping of the heroine for the final showdown.  Conan subsequently enlist the help of an earlier rescued comrade who so happens to have the keys to the enemies impenetrable fortress lying around his bar to help Conan gain access and rescue the once heroine now damsel in distress again. The final battle ensues with Conan facing off against Khalar and our heroine facing off against the antagonists daughter. Good triumphs over evil ta da! Conan drops off the broad and goes on to wander the wilderness.

In what can only be described as a series of convenient plot points and unexplained story mechanisms, Conan only manages to keep one awake by the gore and repeated head smashing. Momoa’s performance is very much akin to his performance as Ronan in Stargate Atlantis, the only difference being he is using a sword instead of laser blaster. Ron Perlman’s performance is exemplary as always, however I felt that Stephan Lang’s performance as Khalar failed to deliver. I am not sure if that is the result of the writing or poor direction or both. Certainly Stephan is capable of delivering one of the best bad guy performances today. He is more than capable of delivering the evil villain role but for some reason he came across as more restrained and when he was able to let go, came across more as a campy bad guy than a truly sinister villain bent on world domination.  The remainder of the cast supported the main characters quite well; however I am still perturbed by Rose McGowan’s performance where her plea for her Father’s support/love came across more like an incestuous flirt… WTF? Visually Conan is as good as any other CG spectacle in its genre, however unlike other spectacles of this genre it does not deliver much more than a simplistic origin story with convenient and obvious plot twists to drive the story along.


Review written by Dan McIntosh

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