I’ve been a huge fan of Conan (the Cimmerian barbarian, not the redheaded comedian and TV show host). I own both the movies, have seen both that I could write this article on OverthinkingIt.com with little research. The first comic I owned as a kid (now lost to the sands of time) was an issue of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian my mom bought me. The day I found a massive Dark Horse reprinting of several issues of Savage Sword of Conan on clearance for $10 was one of the highlights of 2009 for me. I often whistle the Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom when walking or working, and I often quote the books and movies. I even watched the animated Conan the Adventurer, for Crom’s sake! So, of course, I was looking forward to this new movie ever since I learned of it a year ago. On top of all of this, I learned some very personal and heartbreaking news regarding a very dear friend of mine late Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours before seeing this movie I’d built up for so long. If this movie was bad, I figured, this would end up being the worst weekend ever. So, what do I think of the movie?
For starters, this isn’t a remake of the 1982 Conan the Barbarian…not really. There are some plot similarities. Conan takes on a mighty empire headed by a serpent man priest who wiped out his village vs. Conan takes on a mighty empire headed by a guy that wants to be a god and wiped out his village. Conan is tasked with saving King Osric’s virgin daughter vs. Conan is tasked with saving Tamara, a virgin and the last daughter of Acheron. But aside from those similarities, it’s a different movie with almost all different characters. It’s much more faithful to Robert E. Howard’s character, and the types of adventures he got himself into, save for the slaughtered village origin, which is in line with the old movies but not Howard stories.
As far as casting goes, well, I may be lynched for this, but Jason Momoa is a much better Conan than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Momoa’s Conan was competent, bright, cunning, as well as a skilled warrior. He is equal parts fearsome and honourable. In short, he’s just as Howard wrote him. Arnold’s Conan brought Arnold’s dumb charm with him, but Momoa’s Conan’s charm lies in his savagery. I hope Momoa becomes a megastar because of this movie (though I doubt it due to the low Rotten Tomatoes score). The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Ron Perlman as Coran, Conan’s father, is great, though his acting is at times Narmy. Rose McGowan is creepily sexy and quite the scene stealer as Marique. While Stephen Lang, who plays Marique’s father Khalar Zim, is competent enough, he’s no James Earl Jones. Saïd Taghmaou’s Ela-Shan is all but useless as a character, which is a shame since I found the character interesting. Nonso Anozie is great but underused as Artus. Rachel Nicols is bland and pathetic as Tamara, and the guy who lost his nose to Conan just wasn’t engaging. All in all, the cast was good enough, though aside from McGowan and Momoa, none were what I’d call stellar.
As for the rest…well, the story was kind of by-the-books. A quest for revenge, defending the nearly helpless damsel meant to be a sacrifice, stopping an evil king from obtaining ultimate power…yawn. While I liked the nods to the Howard stories, like Conan’s pirate crew, I didn’t find the script to be exceptional. The effects were great, though one scene was jarring to me: after Marique’s death, the lighting shifted from blue filtered to green, though that might be due to the 3D conversion. I saw it in 2D, so perhaps if I saw it 3D, that might not be an issue. It was well scored except for during Conan and Tamara’s love scene, though this was nothing compared to Basil Poledouris legendary score for the first film. The violence and action was almost non-stop, however, and well-done, yet not gratuitous, so it was easy to ignore most of the film’s flaws. Even the somewhat offensive scene where young Conan killed a few guys who look suspiciously like warriors from my tribe, wasn't too bad, partly because the rest of the casting and race relations of the movie resembled the world I described in my OTI post.
All in all, it was a mostly good movie. Not as good a movie as the 1982 film, but better than any other film or television adaptation of the character. However, if you’re not familiar with Robert E Howard’s work, don’t go in expecting anything aside from a competent and bloody action film. I give it 7 severed noses out of 10.