I feel obligated to point out that the titular character of this film pronounces his name similar to that of Conan O'Brien (CO-nin). I'm sure that's the preferred pronunciation of the character's creator, Robert E. Howard, but I've always associated the name with Arnold Schwarzenegger's barely English pronunciation (CO-NAAN). That, of course, is completely irrelevant. For some reason, though, I cared enough about it to watch a few old-school movie trailers to make sure my ears weren't playing tricks on me. Apparently, I will research things that absolutely nobody else cares about.
Like so many remakes, Conan the Barbarian gives us the origin of the titular character. It doesn't begin there, though. A prologue explains that many years ago, the sorcerers of Acheron made a mask from the bones of kings, fueled it with their own pure-blooded daughters, and bestowed unimaginable power upon the wearer of the mask; the "dark gods" gave the wearer of this bone chapeau enough power to conquer the world. And yet...barbarian tribes defeated this godling. Huh. Maybe the power of the mask was to conquer the civilized world? Whatever. The heads of the barbarian tribes broke the mask into parts and each tribe guarded a different part. Thousands of years later, Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) comes a-calling and a-killing all the barbarian tribes, gathering up the mask's pieces. The last tribe in his way are the Cimmerians, led by Corin (Ron Perlman).
|Great casting! Perlman was born to play barbarians and cavemen|
|Maybe the mask can hide his male-pattern baldness|
...Or not. Twenty years later, Zym is a powerful king, but he has apparently been missing pure Acheron blood to fuel his bone-mask powers. Meanwhile, Conan (Jason Momoa) has grown into a strapping lad with a fondness for killing powerful people and showing off his pecs.
|Only weaklings armor their chests|
The acting in Conan the Barbarian is about what you should expect from a movie about barbarians. It's not great, but the dialogue and script are simple enough for that not to matter. I thought Jason Momoa was pretty good as Conan; he showed a little bit of wit and mischief, but otherwise stuck to simple phrases and grunting. How does he stack up against Schwarzenegger? Well...it's not a big downgrade from Ahhnuld. Momoa isn't as brutish, but he's also not as stupid; personally, I liked Momoa as Conan.
|Arm armor and a sarong: as clothed as Conan gets|
|What an unfortunate family hairline|
|Also weird: she was clean and attractive|
Not surprisingly, Conan the Barbarian is not a thinking man's movie. At least the title hints at that fact. The plot is pretty predictable, and there are many plot holes. Perhaps the most irritating is the concept of a demigod getting defeated by barbarians, but Zym can exterminate them without the mask. The plot is also suspiciously convenient. Conan rescues a random dude, who turns out to be the one person who can sneak him into Zym's castle, Conan accidentally recues the one peson on Earth Zym needs to fulfill his evil plans, etc. The story isn't bad, but it sure isn't very interesting. I would also argue that the filmmakers misjudged their audience when they (essentially) made this Conan the Barbarian Begins. Does anyone really care why Conan is slaughtering bad guys? I don't think so. They should have gone the Inigo Montoya route and simply cut out the opening fifteen minutes and just had Conan explain that he was hunting down the man who killed his father. That would have taken maybe two minutes and spared us the adventures of Lil' Conan.
But those are simply story choices. Director Marcus Nispel is known for his horrible remakes of establishes franchises, but I have to admit that I liked most of his choices here. The acting is certainly nothing special and the story was not exactly epic. Nispel did manage to craft a sword and sorcery movie that delivered on the swords and the sorcery. The action scenes were pretty solid, the special effects were pretty good --- especially the sand creatures --- and I thought the overall tone felt right for a Conan movie.
|It's not racist to call them "sand people" if that's a literal description|
This film gets a little extra credit for having Conan (predictably) save his love interest and then drop her off at the end of the movie, essentially saying "Later, I've got things to do and people to kill."