Conan the Barbarian - SideReel Review

Conan the Barbarian

2011’s Conan the Barbarian is an uber-violent revenge story complete with witches, horrific monsters, and brutal fight sequences. The character of Conan is based on the work of Robert E. Howard, which inspired two films, Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), both starring ’80s action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. While there are some similarities between this reboot and the 1982 original -- bloody violence, thin dialogue, generous nudity, and a little camp -- the major difference is the casting of Jason Momoa as the title character. Schwarzenegger may have had the bod to play the fierce barbarian warrior, but Momoa has swagger. With his chiseled physique and permanent scowl, he has the kind of presence and likability factor that will surely propel him to the top of the "next great action star" list.

The story begins with Conan as a young boy (Leo Howard), born on the battlefield to his dying mother and raised to be a warrior by his father, Corin (Ron Perlman), the leader of the Cimmerian tribe. A menacing horde of bandits led by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) kills his father and burns their village to the ground, but not before stealing the final piece of a mystical mask, forged by a sect of necromancers, that Zym intends to use to rule the world. Flash forward to adulthood, where Conan, along with a band of criminals, gallivants across Hyboria freeing slaves, drinking ale, and enjoying the comforting arms of grateful women. However, when Conan discovers that Zym and his army are marching toward an ancient temple to retrieve the blood of a young female monk, Tamara (Rachel Nichols), in order to fulfill the mask’s prophecy, Conan goes on a quest to track down Zym, save Tamara, and avenge his father and his people.

Conan is a fairly one-dimensional hero who would have greatly benefited from Joseph Campbell’s "Hero’s Journey"; the absence of an emotional arc robs the film of an apparent climax, and though there’s plenty of swordplay, sorcery, and severed heads, at times it’s both overly simplistic and utterly ridiculous. The main issue lies with director Marcus Nispel, who inserts a dizzying array of locations into the movie, coupled with action sequences that bleed together to the point where even the most impressive of set pieces fade into the Frank Frazetta-inspired background.

Much like the character of Conan, the supporting cast is equally flat. Stephen Lang is completely misused here, as his character is surprisingly less menacing than you’d expect from a warrior who fancies himself a god. Likewise, Rose McGowan gives an awkward performance as Marique, Khalar Zym’s witch daughter, who flashes her razor-sharp fingernails every chance she gets. There’s a strange, almost incestuous, relationship between Marique and Zym, and though screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood lay the foundation for an interesting dynamic between the pair as the story moves forward, they never really follow through. Instead, they continue to focus on the mask, which itself doesn’t quite live up to the hype as a world-decimating weapon.

Conan suffers from a syndrome that has chronically plagued Hollywood blockbusters -- sacrificing a well-thought-out story for spectacle -- and in this case, the spectacle is surprisingly low-rent. Though Momoa is the right man for the job, the film unfortunately lacks the same kind of enticement that made the original Conan a beloved cult favorite.

-Alaina O’Connor


1 comment

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Aug 21, 2011 12:00PM EDT

Completely agree! Jason Momoa is a new obsession of mine and I really wish they had given him more depth. You fall in love with any and every character he plays (even Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones). The man himself is dynamic and interesting to watch. I wanted so much for this movie to be epic... it just fell flat. Jason is still really hot though.

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