Conan the Barbarian (2011)

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Conan the Barbarian 2011Starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Leo Howard

Directed by Marcus Nispel

In the interest of full disclosure, I will go ahead and say that I’m not exactly well versed in the vast mythology created by writer Robert E. Howard for his character of Conan the Barbarian, a noted figure in pop culture who still resonates with fans worldwide even after 80 years. Sure, I’ve seen the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie with Arnie Schwarzenegger as well as the follow-up, Conan the Destroyer, and one of my mom’s old boyfriends introduced me as a kid to the bold artwork created by legendary artist Frank Frazetta that celebrated the iconic Cimmerian warrior, but beyond that I don’t really know much about what Howard’s original Conan short story collection entailed.

That being said, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from director Marcus Nispel’s reboot of the Conan franchise except that Jason Momoa, who was set to step into the titular character’s shoes, was definitely easy on the eyes and that the movie was shot in 3D.

I went into Conan the Barbarian completely in the dark as to what to expect (Was it another sequel? Was it a reboot?) and found it to be an epic, balls-out action flick that is by far the most brutal and violent film of the entire summer. It has a decent story at its core, and while it isn’t absolute perfection, I did find myself entertained throughout most of Conan the Barbarian, even if the flick does run about 15 minutes too long.

At the beginning of Conan the Barbarian, we are introduced to our protagonist’s parents in the midst of an epic confrontation on the battlefield. Nine months pregnant and still kicking ass, Conan’s mother gives birth to the future warrior basically in the trenches while bodies are dropping right and left of her moments before she dies. Left to be raised by his loyal father, Corin (Perlman), young Conan (played by Howard) displays very early on in his childhood that he’s destined for greatness as a barbarian. He’s more of a warrior than many of the men in the village twice his own age (wait ’til you see what happens when the young Conan faces off against a pack of savage tribesman who try to attack his village), and his skills with a sword are only outshone by his eagerness to fight anyone who happens to be around.

One day Cimmeria is ambushed by malicious warlord Khalar Zym (Lang), who is on a quest to retrieve the last missing piece of the Mask of Acheron in his effort to gain absolute power over the world of Hyboria. After conquering most of the villagers of Cimmeria, Zym, his sorceress daughter, Marique (McGowan), and his henchmen corner Corin and his progeny in their home and force the willful leader to give up the piece of the mask or see his son and the rest of his people destroyed. Corin makes the ultimate sacrifice since he knows Conan’s future as a fierce warrior leader had already been ordained, and the young barbarian is left a vengeful orphan looking to even the score with Zym.

The film transitions to a few years later, when we meet a much older Conan (Momoa), who has been traveling the vast landscapes of Hyboria looking for his Zym. Along his journey Conan’s quest for revenge soon turns into an epic sword-clanking showdown against Zym and Marique as the maniacal warlord finally locates the last “pureblood,” a descendant of Acheron whose blood holds the key to Zym’s plans for immortality and power over the world around him.

It’s during this showdown at a remote monastery that Conan learns that the last pureblood happens to be Tamara (Nichols), a young monastery student and martial arts expert that starts off as Conan’s rescuee and eventually evolves into both his love interest and fellow ass-kicker in the film’s third act. Because once the lethal father/daughter team of Zym and Marique begin the ritual to invoke the power of the Mask of Acheron, Conan needs Tamara and her abilities to level the playing field.

As someone with very little expectations going into Conan the Barbarian, I found myself both entertained and continuously surprised by how much I continued to enjoy myself throughout the film as a whole.

Director Nispel has built quite a reputation as the “Remake King” with previous efforts Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for Platinum Dunes, but with Conan he proves that it is possible to maintain a respectful balance between homage and reinvention, and perhaps the missteps in his previous reimagingings may have had more to do with Platinum Dunes than his efforts at the helm.

In Conan Nispel has done a masterful job of creating a gritty and realistic world that feels more like a documentary than a fantasy film, and I applaud his approach of shooting practically rather than relying on green screen studios, which would have been far easier to do than filming in Bulgaria over several months. That extra mile pays off and gives Conan a sort of “historical documentary” feel that blends well with the fantastical aspects of the story.

For those of you who grew up loving the original Schwarzenegger films, you’ll be pleased to know that this version of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t really feel like Nispel was trying to remake those classic films at all. In fact, fans of the original movies should experience a lot of what they want to see in a flick about their favorite barbarian but will also see that Nispel has managed to pack in quite a few surprises throughout Conan as well so that both long-time fans and newcomers alike should find the film a very satisfying experience.

The entire success of whether or not a Conan the Barbarian remake would actually work sat squarely on the (broad) shoulders of star Momoa, and he proves here with his portrayal as the Cimmerian warrior out to destroy Zym and his plans for world domination that he’s most definitely a natural on the big screen.

A hulking presence that exudes both unbridled energy and a bravado riddled with confidence, Momoa also demonstrates with his performance in Conan the Barbarian that he’s a worthy heir to Schwarzenegger’s throne and delivers a performance that should no doubt turn some heads in Hollywood. Personally, I know I’d show up to see Momoa again if his plans for a Conan sequel go through because I thoroughly enjoyed the thought and energy put into this project. Momoa not only looks like he was born with a sword in his hand, but he is also poised to be the next action star once this film hits theaters everywhere on Friday.

What also impressed me about Conan the Barbarian were the female characters. At its core Conan is very much a testosterone-fueled action film, but both leading ladies, Nichols and McGowan, don’t shirk away from kicking a little ass themselves. Nichols goes into full combat mode during several sequences, and McGowan’s approach is a little bit more subversive; she uses a snake-like approach during battle that turns out to be just as lethal as a full-on sword fight would ever be.

As Tamara, Nichols has great chemistry with Conan star Momoa and builds on her impressive action-heavy resume after her recent roles in flicks like GI Joe and Star Trek. McGowan, who still remains one of my favorite actresses to come out of the 90s, once again delivers a delightfully wicked performance as Marique that often borderlined an homage to Freddy Krueger himself. McGowan is a solid actress when she’s playing a good girl, but I always enjoy her more when she’s playing the bad girl, and in Conan she’s never been more fiendish or more entertaining.

The look of Conan the Barbarian itself is pretty spectacular. While I’m not exactly sure if the film was shot in 3D or converted in post, but either way the 3D looks great, and I’m happy to report that Nispel and his crew rely heavily on practical effects and use CGI only minimally. In fact, I think Conan has the best looking blood I’ve seen in a 3D flick in a while, to the point where I’m honestly not sure whether or not they used blood gags or if Nispel has found a way to elevate the look of CG blood.

Another aspect I really enjoyed about Conan the Barbarian is that the movie is infused with a lot of horror genre homages throughout. There are little nods to The Mummy, zombies in general and the aforementioned Freddy Krueger as well as a few more that I’d rather not ruin for you if you’re planning to catch the flick this weekend. In terms of action and brutality, as mentioned above, Conan is by far the most violent film I’ve seen all year, and that only made it a better film-going experience for this writer.

Just to give you an idea of how balls out brutal the action is- if you tried to make a drinking game out of just the movie’s beheadings, you’d be drunk within the first 20 minutes and after the first hour, you’d probably be a sloshy heap of booze lying on the theater floor passed out cold with popcorn stuck to your face. If you’re a lover of insane action and gritty violence (like myself), Conan should definitely keep your attention throughout its 112-minute running time.

Speaking of running time, my one issue with Conan the Barbarian is that I felt like the film ran about 15 minutes too long, which sort of left me feeling a bit underwhelmed with the huge showdown between the titular character and Zym in the movie’s final act. If they could have trimmed a bit out of the rather meaty second act, perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself looking at my watch toward the end.

It’s been about 27 years since we’ve seen Conan on the big screen, and I can’t think of a better reintroduction for the iconic character to new audiences than Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian. The movie looks like a living Frank Frazetta painting brought to life by an incredibly talented group of actors and a gifted director at the helm that somehow managed to create one of the better straight-up action flicks of the year while still incorporating an engaging story that should no doubt prove entertaining to the masses.

Oh, and Momoa’s hotness factor certainly didn’t hurt either.

3 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Conan the Barbarian in the comments section below!

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  • Rottenjesus

    This was a flaming piece of utter shit squeezed out of Crom’s uncaring anus.

  • MonsterMash

    I Dug it. I saw it on DVD. Just now thought to type this since I got back from Bullet to the Head. It’s fun nonsense. Momoa is a great Conan.

  • NeoKefka

    Lowered expectations kept me from completely hating it but Jesus, this was a waste of time and effort. It was pretty obvious Mamoa was the only one involved that gave a crap about doing a Conan movie and the editing in this was so terrible, somebody should have gotten blacklisted for it.

    Seriously, anybody who thinks “Barbarian…I don’t like you any more” is THE big line to give to your villain shouldn’t be allowed to make movies.

  • Vanvance1

    Saw it yesterday with my best friend. We both agreed it was NOT Howard’s Conan; worse the movie was largely incoherent. Spastic editing, direction and a painfully bad script combined to result in a piss poor mishmash of fantasy cliches. Surprisingly Momoa was actually trying and in the brief moments he was allowed to show character he was not a bad Conan.

    1.5 knives from me.

    P.S. The ‘3D’ was jaw droppingly poor and ineffective. This had to be post processed by a drunken monkey.

  • theGoldenSimatar

    Finally saw it. It was the worst film I’ve seen this year and the 3D is worse than The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans.

    • Foywonder

      Worst movie I’ve seen theatrically all summer long. Came within a hair of just walking out.

      • Sirand

        I think we need to see a Foy review!

      • theGoldenSimatar

        Aye. ‘Priest’ may come a close second; but while I was disappointed, I still had a fun time and it had some mildly exciting action.

        ‘Conan’ I went in with low expectations; but all could have been a bit better if it was 1. more bloody, I don’t know if the theater I saw it in got a PG13 version; but outside of when Freddy Kruger…I mean Rose McGowan slashed that nun and nudity…there wasn’t buckets of gore. Sheer absurd violence might have helped. But 2. It was BORING, the fighting was dull, the film was aggressively shot and edited within an inch of it’s life; I think the ‘Bourne’ films have more control than this film did. Even with all the hyperness; it was still dull.

        It’s a movie that my Post-Productoin professor said one of his friends told him it’s a movie every film school should own just to point out to their students how not to edit a movie; especially action. I’d totally agree.

        I could forgive the film’s many faults and heck I might have even bought it on Blu-Ray…if it was fun. It wasn’t fun. I can forgive a bad movie if I have fun watching it; if there’s a few scenes that make it worthwhile. This film…I love Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals is underrated) and sadly, he’s not reason enough to get this film.

        ‘Conan’…a crime against action films for being dull.

  • nonserviam03

    *tries to imagine the trailer to Conan if the main character were a busty scantily clad woman instead of Drogo*

    Nope… still looks like garbage. Hotness doesn’t sway opinions of movies unless we’re talking about tweens and the mentally challenged. Even though this review contradicts my own opinion on how the movie looks (didn’t see it. Marcus Nispel + poorly delivered dialogue in the trailer = don’t bother, save money), I doubt the “hotness” was REALLY any kind of a major factor. I give the horror chick more credit than that.

  • Uncle Creepy

    For the record … I fucking loved this flick! I had such a good time with it that I was pretty shocked by the time it was over. Couldn’t agree more with Heather’s review!

  • vorodex999

    In honesty its not a bad movie. Its not as good as the 1982 Conan The Barbarian but it is leagues better than Red Sonja and Conan The Destroyers, The Conan the tv series, and The COnan the Adventurer cartoon series and I loved the cartoon series. But I doubt anyone will ever match R. Howards Conan. I love the books and I do like all the other Conan inspired outlets such as I stated above. There arethings I liked in this film…ROn Perlman always being spot on, and Jason Momoa is a great Conan.. I would love top to see another person make a sequel to this film with a better director and writing team. Visually things are good, The story seems like it would be great as well but it falters as the main cast of villains do. One dimensional to say the least. Its a good 3 out of 5 film. It doesnt bring Conan down but it doesn’t make it stand out. A sequel would be welcomed. Now if only we could get them to make a fil out of one of the original stories like People of the Black Circle then we would have a great film.

  • Bulldog

    Alright guys, I’m gonna expand a bit (probably alot) on a few things about me. I’m doing this because I don’t want any misconceptions that just because I’m a woman, I might not be able to give a solid opinion about Conan, (I do plan on seeing it tomorrow but this is a bit for you to chew on until then). Also, I’m not trying to make myself something I’m not-I’m not an expert on anything in particular, but do know enough about alot to get me by.

    On the outside, many think upon first looking at me that I am the stereotypical blonde bimbo. Big boobs, blonde hair, nice legs, (sorry vanvance1 it seems the hair color wouldn’t suit you and I think I’m a bit smallish through the hips!). I do not dress provocatively, never have and never had to. I drink, smoke, and have a mouth that’s more times R rated than not. I have a huge passion for cars/jeeps. Speed and agility in a vehicle are what I seek. I can turn my own wrench, put a new suspension/lift and tires on just about anything you put in front of me, and look good while I do it. I love to cook, keep a good house, and can also bring home the bacon so to speak. I am not your typical female-all woman but with some extras people don’t expect when they see me.

    Now, my history with Conan the CIMMERIAN, comes from a collection of Weird Tales magazines that were in a buy all box my uncle got at an auction. Granted, all of the stories Howard wrote in the 30’s were not there but I have read well over half the collection that he had written. At the age that I started reading them (11), I had already been reading books from my uncles sci-fi/fantasy library and absolutely loved the world that Howard had created. As an adult I have revisited many of these stories with a new found appreciation of an author so tormented in his reality, he committed suicide.

    So I told my husband that we are going to go see this movie tomorrow and that I will give everyone my take on it afterwards. It’s probably not going to be the gusher you might expect from a girl, but I have to tell you that because of an interest in bodybuilding, largely in part to Schwarzenegger, I can appreciate the work that Mamoa has put into his physique even though it is a tad bit pectoral.

    Sorry about the length of this rant, but I guess I wanted to say that just because someone has tits, and thinks a man is sweet to look at, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t qualified to give their opinion on what is being called in some circles, the ‘man movie of the decade’

    • Bulldog

      So I watched Conan today and I’ve thought about the shortest way to convey my thoughts. Alot of my opinion would just be a rehash of thc’s review-nothing new that I thought I could add to it. I was impressed with the violence, the blood, and yes, Moamoa, as an action actor. If he gets a fair shake in Hollywood, I think he can do well in that industry.

      As for how the movie stacks up against Howard’s Conan, I don’t think that he does. In looks, I think that he is the character that I’d imagined. Strong enough to kick ass but stealthy enough that you don’t know he’s doing it. I think that the women in the movie are just as badass-as I feel they should’ve been in the original movie. Howard’s world, I don’t think was represented in this movie and even though on it’s own, I think it’s a pretty cool movie and I did enjoy it; but I didn’t go in expecting to have the world I’m familiar with unfold in front of me.

      Before I close, one thing that caught me off guard was that there were a number of people young and old that walked out of the movie about an hour into it. 17 total to be exact. Now it might be that I live in the bible belt and this movie is a little over the top for most with the violence and or tits. But I think it fascinating that in this same theater, the same people can watch mind-numbingly stupid comedy with every sight gag, involving every bodily fluid you can think of. But when it comes to a few (!) beheadings and a little blood, people gotta walk out muttering gross under their breath and saying that can’t believe anyone could stand to watch this movie…the last movie that I’ve seen anyone walk out of was Pet Sematary with the family kite scene and the semi. Just thought it was a little odd with the standards of today

  • Jon Condit

    2.5 MAYBE 3 knives.

    The action was mostly horrible shaky cam bullshit with slam cuts that are timed exactly at the worst moments. Sadly the editing gets in the way of conveying the action so much in the climactic final fights that you are just sitting there while the film shits flashing swords into your eye sockets. When it is all said and done the climax is uninspired and pedestrian for an action film of this ilk.

    The 3D? Horrible. This film was obviously post converted. So obviously it was painful. All interior shots are just poorly lit crapfests unless there happens to be a significant amount of light sources. A good poriton of the movie is dark and muddy/murky indicative of a post converted film.

    As for the story, the film starts off with a ridiculous opening scene. I almost got up and left the fucking theater. Indeed though the best part of this movie is the following 15 minutes or so that even still poorly lay the foundation for Conan’s back story. Ron Perlman is wasted as Conan’s father. They should have focused a lot more on the back story as that is where this film really shined.

    Everything after Conan leaves his village goes downhill quick. We are introduced to a hulking warrior whose name I cant remember and whose relation to Conan is relayed to us in a some throw away dialog of about 3 lines. But it really doesn’t matter because he disappears entirely from the film never to be seen again just when the climax of the film is supposed to be building. Some steadfast companion eh?

    Violent and bloody? Not on your knife… I mean, not on your life. The fight scenes are cut to shit and are way to quickly paced to enjoy. Most of the bloody goodness happens off camera with the exception of one scene where Conan buries his sword into an already fallen opponent twice and CGI blood splurts out. The only good fight scene in the whole movie is young Conan kicking ass and again we only SEE him walking into the village with the heads of the attackers.

    This was not a worthy reboot of Conan. This was Clash of The Titans with half the plot and even worse 3D. I would rather have watched Kull the Conqueror. Even that movie was more enjoyable than this.

    • Sirand

      Sounds like Marcus Nispel’s usual brand of overproduced, soulless garbage.

  • Vanvance1


    I think we need a 2nd DC review here as well.

    Someone who has read the original Howard stories. Someone for whom Momoa’s “hotness factor” does not contribute to the number of knives given.

    The big question with any adaptation is does the movie capture the elements that made the source material work in the first place.

    P.S. The previous Conan movie (we’ll ignore the craptastic ‘The Destroyer’) wasn’t a bad fantasy flick but it sure as hell wasn’t Howard’s Conan.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Maybe Foy will write a retort! 😉

      • Foywonder

        Nah, Creepy, I’ll just call you up at one o’clock in the morning to tell you what I thought. 🙂

        • PrairieGhost

          You could review the movie by how many cats you had to kill while watching it.

    • Rottenjesus

      Let me guess: It wasn’t racist or sexist enough for you? 😉

      • Vanvance1

        Hehehe…Damn straight! Though I guess treating men like eye candy could be called sexist (smirks).

        Actually it didn’t cover the issue I deem most important which is how true the movie is to the source material.

        P.S. By modern standard’s Howard’s writing could be seen as both racist and sexist. I doubt that was his intention at the time, but it’s how it would be interpreted today.

    • thehorrorchick

      How many times do we read reviews on here where guys are talking about hot women or their tits?

      Saying a dude is hot negates my ability to review this flick? Hardly. I also really dug the characters and whether or not I’m well-versed in Howard’s original works doesn’t take away the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of the movie for its brutality and its energy.

      Oh, and yes, Conan has A LOT of tits. In 3D. So there you go…now I’ve leveled the playing field. 😉

      • Cinemascribe

        Tits! Now I HAVE to see it. 😀

        I dunno- I don’t see a problem with the hotness comment. It seems to have been written as an amusing afterthought.

        Actually, I’m fairly impressed that you got that much entertainment value out of it, HC. I thought the trailers looked like overproduced garbage that wouldn’t stack up to the gritty entertainment value of the first Schwarzenegger flick (I don’t care how far the plot deviated from Howard’s stories. I love any flick that has James Earl Jones using that baritone of his to command that someone be nailed to the “tree of woe”). I may have to bite the bullet and give this one a look after all.

      • Vanvance1

        I have zero problem with a woman enjoying eye candy. Women could and should enjoy it as much as men enjoy gazing at boobs and butts (and hips and really long dark hair).

        The point is this review is a woman’s perspective of a movie based upon the most masculine character in the history of written fiction. It doesn’t fly for me; you’re not wanting the same things from this film that I am.

        That doesn’t mean your review isn’t useful for many or even most of the other readers here. It just means that we’re rarely in accord.

        • thehorrorchick

          Wait…so first you say I can’t review this movie because I’m not well-versed in the works of Howard and now you’re saying I can’t review this movie because I’m a woman reviewing a movie about “the most masculine character in the history of written fiction.” So, which is it?

          Clearly, you don’t think I’m qualified to review this movie at all (which is your opinion and that’s cool you’re entitled) but don’t you think that’s coming off a little sexist?

          I’m no feminist by any means and honestly, some of my favorite movies are these kind of balls-out action flicks (I have a ‘travel copy’ of Crank for chrissakes that I bring with me whenever I leave town). I don’t make apologies for my opinions- a lot of times people agree with me, a lot of times they don’t. And I’m okay with that. I know what I find entertaining and I know what I don’t. And I found Conan surprisingly entertaining since I had little expectations going into it and I enjoyed its brutality, the look of it, the action (far more fluid than anything in the 80s flicks) and I really liked Momoa as Conan as he seems to have a similar presence to the Conan that Frazetta’s artwork depicted.

          But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I cannot review Conan. That would be like me saying a man couldn’t review a movie like Paul Solet’s Grace because men don’t know what it’s like to give birth, lose a baby, etc…

          • Rottenjesus

            Don’t forget, he has over 300 books on sex. So clearly he’s done his research and knows more about women than women do. 😉

          • Vanvance1

            Dude, you’re really obsessed with my collection.

            Think about it like this. Most people take sex for granted, to them it’s natural: Insert tab ‘a’ into slot ‘b’. They don’t think there is anything else to learn.

            The truth is sex is like any and every other subject. The more you know the better off you are. There is a surprising amount of variation among women physically and psychologically, they also have (on average) a greater orgasmic potential than men do (and no I’m not claiming orgasm is the be all and end all of sex).

            Do I know more about women sexually than they know about themselves? Often yes, especially if they’ve come from a repressive background (i.e. Catholic).

            I hope that satisfies you because I feel a little badly posting a message this far removed from a Conan review inside a Conan review.

          • Vanvance1

            I thought I’d made my points clearly in my previous posts. I’ll simplify.

            1 – Yes, I want my Conan review to come from someone familiar with and appreciative of Howard’s original work. Being well versed in a subject would logically add weight and merit to a reviewer’s opinion.

            2 – Yes, by current standards in the Western world I am sexist.

            3 – Men and women do think differently. Current social trends are to ignore those differences and claim either sex is interchangeable in any role. This isn’t how I think.

            4 – I explained that your review may work for many or even the majority; it doesn’t work for me. My comments reflect my opinion. I do not claim to be speaking for anyone else.

          • nazo

            But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I cannot review Conan.

            No, but obviously the most qualified people to appreciate the antics of a sweaty, muscled, loinclothed man who spends much of his time grappling with and swinging his sword at other sweaty, muscled men are other (straight) men. Sheesh, Heather 🙂

        • Cinemascribe

          Wouldn’t Tarzan be the most masculine character in written fiction? The guy was raised by apes. He’s essentially nothing but pure physical power and instinct- a human animal lacking any sense of civilization when we meet him. He’s literally an alpha male.

          • Vanvance1

            Though I’ve read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs books (when I was much younger) and appreciate his contributions to the fantasy genre (the greatest of which for me was inspiring Moorcock), they don’t hold up well for the adult reader.

            Conan isn’t just the alpha male, he is the uber male. Conan is larger than life in every way and Howard’s writing has the same power you see in Norse or Greek mythology.

            Conan is Plato’s perfect male and the rest are just casting their shadows on the wall.

    • Bulldog

      I think that Momoa personifies Howard’s Conan better than Schwarzenegger…