CONAN THE BARBARIAN Review

Contributing Writer; Melbourne, Australia (@Kwenton)
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CONAN THE BARBARIAN Review














Born on the battlefield, Conan quickly develops innate warrior skills that his father teaches him to control. When his village is attacked, an evil tyrant claims a piece of a necrotic mask that will bring his dead wife back. Conan's father possessed this piece and is killed in the process. Years later Conan is a man, crossing continents to find the tyrant and avenge his fathers death, while the tyrant searches for a pure blood, the only descendant who can bring the mask to life.

There is no point to analyze or criticize this bare bones plot because there is nothing to add. Going into Conan with zero expectations and a need to escape certainly helped the nearly two hours running time, and for its many flaws, unoriginal plot, wooden acting and atrocious pacing, Conan succeeds on some level because it fulfills the quota of a manly man beating stuff to a pulp. This was directed by Marcus Nispel whose credentials include an epic beard and the barely related film the Pathfinder - Vikings, barbarians, same stuff right?

A Morgan Freeman sound-a-like offers afterthought narration of the world and its horrible history and it is quickly revealed that young Conan (Leo Howard) is indeed literally born from battle, no smart metaphorical or otherwise quips here. Flash forward somewhat and Conan is a young Cimmerian boy whose strength and agility to the point of parkour - something barbarians do not normally possess, is tested. Conan's first on-screen fight comes from some marauders who attack him and his kind during the brief trial. They get their faces smashed in and at this point it is clear that there is a sufficient amount of gore in Conan to add barbarian to the title.

Ron Perlman plays his father Corin, he also has an epic beard. In Conan there seems to be an awful lot of weird patriarch/sibling stuff going on. Conan and his father relate terribly and when he introduces him to the finer points of sword creation it sounds more like mentor advice than father and son bonding. Likewise with the big bad tyrant Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his daughter Marique - Rose McGowan at her most bizarrely off putting. There seems to be something incestuous happening there between them and that does not warrant further investigation!

After his father is lava'd to death suddenly he is older, muscly and defending the poor and downtrodden. His side kick is thankfully not the comic relief and after he helps him save some slaves they go and drink in a bar. Here they squeeze in some barbaric elements - disdain for women, no table manners etc, and his sidekick provides some exposition about how they met. There is no time to reflect however as agents of Zym conveniently appear, here there and everywhere, as Conan conflicts with them, and moves through the plot, following the trail to Zym.

The pacing really is incredibly bad, and feels more like a checklist that covered locations, people, fights, chases and monster duels. All of the scenes are driven by exposition, some set pieces are tame, others are quite stunning but it is too jarring and each scene simply strings onto the next. A lot of the elements have also been done before, in particular when Conan battles some sand people Marique conveniently creates this one time. It feels like Prince of Persia and a similar created magical enemy the protagonist fought with. There is certainly nothing to be inspired by, it is all by-the-book and probably true to the source material in terms of how pulpy it all is. There are, in fact, multiple movies contained within, but the pacing and editing is so bad and it feels like they were all rushed and meshed into one. This is certainly not high fantasy it is just place after place, fight after fight, not that the fights aren't great of course.

Jason Momoa is excellent as Conan, he kills stuff really well, demeans women and eats stuff really fast, there is not much more you can look for in a barbarian. Unfortunately, the pure blood Marique and Zym are after Tamara is played by Rachel Nichols and is the most grating and poorly acted character. In fact, she makes everyone else beam in comparison - delivering her lines poorly, stumbling over the fantasy names and having no accent at all. Zym and Marique snarl and growl a lot and everyone else who is not them or Conan provides helpful information to the audience about the plot.

Conan is not a good film, it misses that mark by a long shot. But for its pulp and gory action it can easily be recommended. If you are in the mood for a brainless guilty pleasure, look no further, and like all films of this ilk, the poor ending hints blatantly at a sequel.

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Kurt HalfyardAugust 16, 2011 12:20 AM

Is the new CONAN better or worse in the silliness with gore department than PUNISHER: WARZONE?

Vassago41301August 16, 2011 1:15 AM

You should probably read the books there Kwenton before making snide assumed remarks about the creator of a genre. If you think the only thing Conan is good for is killing and demeaning woman then you are on par with Nispel's Directing capabilities.

hiroaki.jAugust 16, 2011 10:48 AM

The problem is that any Conan movie is going to live in the shadow of the 80's film, which while entertaining, is a fairly shit adaptation of the character.


On the page, Conan is in many ways in the tradition of the Byronic anti-hero: smart, well traveled, capable, and rebellious. There's none of this grunting thick skulled nonsense.

Ard VijnAugust 16, 2011 11:37 AM

The original Conan was a great film which mixed its impossible fantasy elements very satisfyingly with some unexpected realism. People got dirty when walking through dirt and dusty when walking through dust. And they started wearing fur coats when the scenery got cold. I've always loved the original Conan for telling a fantasy story while keeping things raw, gritty and real most of the time.

But I was much surprised when I started to read Robert E. Howard's stories, as it only then became apparent to me how much liberties Oliver Stone and John Milius has taken with their adaptation. The books are entertaining and pulpy, gleefully disregard any sense of realism and take a very blunt-axe-approach to storytelling and characterization. As such I would not be surprised (I have yet to see it) if Marcus Nispel's version is much closer to Howard's Conan than the first Schwarzenegger movie ever was.

But for me the original Conan movie truly transported me to a different age while watching it, and I will always love it for that, decades later. I wonder if this new Conan will be remembered next year...

Kwenton BelletteAugust 16, 2011 7:04 PM

No idea, didn't see Punisher!

Kwenton BelletteAugust 16, 2011 7:05 PM

Having not seen the original or read the novels/comics I could not compare any of it, except to say that it remains pulpy, not to the offense of the original work, which I am sure is superior to this film.

Hopefully they will re-release the old Conan films on bluray or something as lead-up to this coming out.

AlAugust 16, 2011 11:26 PM

Ard VijnL Not only do I disagree with you, but I actually have the entirely opposite opinion. I think Howard's work mixed impossible fantasy elements very satisfyingly with some unexpected realism, keeping things raw, gritty and real most of the time, while Milius' film gleefully disregarded any sense of realism and took a blunt approach to storytelling and characterisation.

I mean, let's be frank: pushing a giant wheel for 20 years is not going to give you a symmetrical bodybuilder's physique, and a completely inexperienced combatant is not going to survive five seconds against an experienced pit fighter. Two people purporting to be thieves would not make stupid mistakes like blundering through tunnels like elephants and kicking aside chains while trying to make no sound. And that preposterous snake-arrow Doom uses? Conan making a tiny tent that only covers his head and torso? Conan knocking out a camel while drunk/high, and plonking face first into a bowl of soup? There's nothing in Howard's stories remotely as cartoonish or absurd. I loved CtB, but it was a Kafkaesque fairytale, myth with broad brushstrokes, not remotely realistic beyond the admirable production design: Howard's Conan may be bombastic and full of fantasy elements, but they have grit, resonance and profundity that puts Milius' film to shame.

Momoa's Conan is closer to Howard's Conan only because he is not things that Arnold's Conan was: he was a competent warrior as a boy rather than a frightened child, he was not enslaved and forced to push a wheel for 20 years, he was not forced into pit-fighting, he was not schooled and trained by civilized warriors. He has none of the complexity, intellect or philosophy of Howard's creation beyond a few quotes thrown in from the original stories out of their context.

JoergAugust 17, 2011 2:13 AM

Someone pshing a wheel for 20 years and becoming a muscular behemoth like Schwarzenegger is a realistic as a small kid taking out 3 experienced, addult warriors and cutting of their heads (like in the latest clip of the current "Conan")! It´s fantasy, dudes, ok? That being said, I enjoyed Milius "Conan" a lot. I had a gritty approach, nice locations (pre green screen times) and an epic score to match the fine action on screen.

hiroaki.jAugust 17, 2011 1:00 PM

I think it was released on blu last week actually. It's worth seeing, a fun time if nothing else.

hiroaki.jAugust 17, 2011 1:03 PM

Ahhh, almost forgot, the original also has an incredible score.

MarsHottentotAugust 17, 2011 2:36 PM

I want to hear the lamentations of Kwenton's women.

Mars The Barbarian