Review: ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (2011)

Alternate titles may include “Conan and the Argonauts,” “The Seventh Voyage of Conan,” or “Conan the Scorpion King.”

In the time before time, some evil wizards created an evil bone mask and got beat down by kind-hearted barbarians who only had the fate of the world in mind when they saved it. They broke it up into many pieces (the bone mask, not the world), one of which is eventually entrusted to Conan’s papa (Ron Perlman). Too bad the bad guy, “invader” Zym (Stephen Lang), shows up to take that piece for his collection before leaving future barbarian bad-ass Conan (Jason Momoa) to die with his papa and the rest of his village. While Zym goes off with his evil sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) to do more evil, Conan predictably survives and vows vengeance (paraphrasing): “My name is Conan the Barbarian. You killed my father. Prepare to die, obviously.”

This was not the Conan tale one might have suspected would relaunch a long-dormant franchise. Right out of the gate, these supposedly ancient times look too modern for the Hyborian age; instead of looking like they predate the Greek gods, one might suspect the Roman Empire was just over the next ocean. The dialog also betrays any semblance of timelessness with words like “C’mon!” and “Blast!” With nary a “By Crom” to be heard, the filmmakers seemed to be using The Scorpion King as a template for their look and feel, securing the place of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian in film history as the definitive Conan version in the same way Excalibur has become the definitive King Arthur screenplay. Since this was what the filmmakers appeared to be shooting for (or at least what the studio thought audiences would buy into), how did they do?

The cast played their parts well. Jason Momoa (of “Stargate: Atlantis” fame before gaining attention in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) is an adequate Conan, looking the part (with plenty of eye candy for the ladies) and playing it for all the barbarian it’s worth. Stephen Lang’s Zym seeks power and vengeance in an almost understandable way although it’s clear that evil is his alignment of choice. The happiest surprise is Rose McGowan, disappearing completely into her Krueger-clawed Marique character and playing up some serious daddy issues; even when she’s not the focus of a scene, it still looks as though she’s plotting something just with her facial expressions. The entire cast makes the most of the story and dialog they’ve been given, made up entirely of plot exposition between action scenes. Sadly, those sequences were awfully fast cut and edited too close together, making many of them very difficult to follow.

There are plenty of inconsistencies, likely the result (one would hope) of scripted scenes being left out of the final cut to shorten the running time. For example, how does an armored band of warriors sneak aboard a ship full of pirates who are on the lookout for such dangers (and for that matter, what happened to the ship that got them there?) Also, why would you shackle your human sacrifice to a heavy wooden wheel before moving it (and the shackled prisoner) several miles to the spot where the ceremony is taking place? While Marique’s sand demons were initially cool, the sequence in which they appear seems to go on forever (it might have also been nice to see this power used again at some critical future moment in the film, hint hint). Finally, if you have a set of custom-made finger knives, one for each finger, you’re definitely going to miss one if it falls off, not to mention tipping off the good guy as to who took your girl, right?

Part of the charm of the original Schwarzenegger Conan was the initial lack of dialog; audiences were shown, not told. Was that due to the need to give Arnold as little dialog as possible? Perhaps, but it worked since we all know Conan speaks with his sword. While the current filmmakers chose not to go this route, the end result is an enjoyable enough film if you have no problem trading suspension of disbelief for an R-rated, breast-revealing, sword-and-sorcery action flick laden with special effects and sweeping, computer-generated location shots. Sure, this Conan film is easier to watch than the bumbled remake of Clash of the Titans and possibly even Conan the Destroyer, but don’t be surprised if seeing the new Conan film makes you reminisce fondly about Marc Singer’s cult classic Beastmaster.

(a two skull recommendation out of four)
2.0 out of four skulls

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About Grim D. Reaper

Your death angel critic for film and Halloween horror all-year 'round. Chitter - DeathBook - InstaGrim
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8 Responses to Review: ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (2011)

  1. You … Dare Call Me Mortal ! Beware for I am , What the Reaper cannot touch !
    I will have my day and what a day it” Will Be” Have your fun as it last ,
    Mark my word ! It will not last Forever ..hahahahahaahahaha.
    For I am the new Master of Horror , A New Kind that is inhabiting what you call earth ! When I’m through you will know what terror really mean’s !

    Don’t let my image make you think I’m something , That I’m not !
    Let your mind wonder !

  2. grimdreaper says:

    I’ve already started getting some push back from people about this review. Personally, I think I was completely fair, but I think they should have went in a different direction.

    “Playing” with Conan is like playing with a Bengal tiger; you’re probably going to get mauled, and while you’re picking your severed arm with your still-attached remaining hand, the tiger is going to look at you and think “I thought you said you could play.”

    This film, by way of comparison, was written more like it took place in a basement around a table full of rulebooks and dice:

    GM: “Oh, I see you named your fighter ‘Conan.’ Is he anything like the the barbarian?”
    Player: “Yeah, kinda, but my Conan can read, write, and hangs with a bunch of his pirate buddies in Tortuga between adventures drinking rum and wenching.”
    GM: “Um… okay, pirates are cool. Now, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by enemy combatants…”
    Player: “On a ship in the middle of the ocean?!”
    GM: “Yep. Roll for initiative.”

  3. Kyle says:

    how did they sneak aboard the ship? (1) it was night time, so 95% of the people were asleep (2) they used a small boat, which I don’t know if you’ve been out on a boat in the middle of the night with nothing but endless water around you, you can barely see the water directly below you. stop making this more than it needs to be.

    How did she not notice one of her claws missing? (1) were you even watching the movie or had you already had your mind made up at this point. BUT if you were watching you noticed that there was hardly even a fight. And you would also have noticed that she had all 5 finger blades later on in the movie. So let’s use our brains here…there was hardly a fight and she had all of them later on, so she obviously left it there for conan to find to let him know who exactly had found her, the people that kicked his ass not too long ago.

    What a joke, you went into this movie expecting god father and got conan, what a surprise you didn’t care for it. This movie is about action, swords and sorcery, and that is exactly what it delivered

    • grimdreaper says:

      Actually, I effing LOVE Jason Momoa (and wish the fight scenes weren’t cut so close so you could see what a bad ass he really is). What I was hoping for was a franchise start that could give him (and Rose McGowan) a trilogy. The script, however, was either lazy or failed to include a better thought out world and story.

      Have you ever read a Conan story? A Conan comic? Only a hint of this character was infused into Momoa’s part, and I don’t blame the cast. Someone somewhere decided to make the film this way, but they intended to coast on the Conan name and turn in something different.

      My rating, by the way, is my “recommendation,” whether or not I’d recommend it to someone (see Ratings). I’m glad you enjoyed the film, but I saw so much potential for a better one that didn’t materialize.

  4. Troy says:

    Being a Conan fan I really wanted to like it… Your critique is right on especially the sand monster scene lasting too long and the witch daughter was good, and Jason Momoa making a good Conan. One thing that I really thought was missing was a visceral appreciation of a good villain. He seemed more like a good guy trying to be bad, not blinded by his own ambition. Since it essentially flopped and Ah-nold is back acting the good news is there will be a King Conan. Let’s hope they don’t mess that up.

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