‘Conan the Barbarian’ Review

Published 4 years ago by

Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian1 Conan the Barbarian Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Conan the Barbarian

Aside from the Terminator, Conan the Barbarian is arguably one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most iconic roles. The original Conan was a campy (and bloody) swords and sorcery adventure – which, thanks to a strong dedication to the various iterations of the source material, has endured the test of time and remains a guilty pleasure for many movie-lovers who caught the film on the big screen.

Given the character’s lasting name recognition, it’s no surprise that Hollywood had an interest in a new Conan film. But with Schwarzenegger now in his sixties, Nu Image/Millennium Films had the option of either a geriatric Conan story – or rebooting the film with a new up and coming slayer-hero. Director Marcus Nispel found his Conan in Jason Momoa (Game of the Thrones) – but has the pair produced an exciting new take on the iconic franchise, or simply imported all the blood without any of the original’s charm?

Unfortunately, despite some entertaining moments, Conan the Barbarian is a hollow beat ‘em up film with very little brains. No doubt some moviegoers who were especially excited by the film’s trailers or TV spots will enjoy the constant parade of bloody swordplay and brutish dialogue, but anyone else looking for an exciting adventure film will probably be let down. It’s not really Momoa’s fault – the actor manages to add a dash of charm and wit to the otherwise singular-focused Conan. In the end, it’s a flimsy story and flat supporting characters that prove to be the barbarian’s true enemy.

Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian is a re-imagining that loosely borrows from Robert E. Howard’s source material, as well as Schwarzenegger’s Conan (which was directed by John Milius from a screenplay he penned with Oliver Stone). The set up is somewhat familiar: Conan’s village comes under attack – in this case from the combined forces of a group of neighboring clans who have sworn allegiance to Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), a mortal who seeks to resurrect his sorceress wife using an ancient relic. When Conan’s father refuses to give up the final piece of the relic, Zym’s daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) manages to uncover the hidden artifact, and Zym leaves Conan’s father for dead. However, unlike other versions of the character, Conan isn’t enslaved – instead, he spends his time thieving, pirating, as well as freeing slaves, with no larger motivation than to hunt down the man responsible for his people’s death. After a chance encounter with a warrior monk named Tamara (Rachel Nichols), Conan lands on the trail of Zym – who is now dangerously close to collecting the final element he needs to release an unimaginable evil.

Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols in Conan the Barbarian Conan the Barbarian Review

Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols in 'Conan the Barbarian'

The opening act of the film presents a surprisingly interesting peek at Cimmerian warrior culture, as well as a disturbing look at Conan as a butt-kicking adolescent. Ron Perlman has a solid supporting spot as Conan’s father – before Zym’s army destroys everything and subsequently sends the film on a linear action track with little character development or “story” for audiences to enjoy.

The characters (and subsequently the performances) in the film are mostly one-note and serve to ratchet up the machismo that dominates the various set-pieces. Jason Momoa will successfully rally audiences to his character’s side with heavy-hitting physicality and charming but subtle facial expressions that give insight into Conan – which are especially important, since most of the barbarian’s dialogue is reduced to one-line reactions to the things happening around him. For all of Momoa’s charm, there’s nowhere for him to take Conan, since every single relationship is flat and simply serves the purpose of moving the story from point A to point B – instead of attempting to develop anything interesting along the way. As a result, we root for the good guys because they aren’t bad guys – not because the film successfully develops a meaningful connection between the audience and the characters.

Similarly, Rachel Nichols is competent as Conan’s warrior-monk (and love-interest) Tamara; however, the actual plot of the film reduces the seemingly tough-as-nails character to little more than a damsel in distress. Both Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan give perplexingly odd performances as Zym and Marique, respectively – and serve as a good example of how Conan the Barbarian routinely touches on complicated, albeit messed up, relationships and potential plot twists, and then does nothing with them.

Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan in Conan the Barbarian Remake Conan the Barbarian Review

Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan in 'Conan the Barbarian'

As a result, Conan the Barbarian is rarely elevated above a basic fantasy adventure – unless you measure the quality of a film by the amount of blood on the screen. The movie excels in a few hand-to-hand combat sequences, but even the better set-pieces are mostly familiar and lack any real surprises or tension. Even the CGI-heavy moments – such as the sand spirits and subterranean water creature – fall short of being memorable, and, moment to moment, aren’t especially exciting, either.

The 3D add-on option for Conan the Barbarian is equally unexciting and entirely unnecessary. There is only one moment, near the end of the film, that capitalizes on the additional depth in a compelling way – otherwise, aside from a lot of three-dimensional blood splattering at the screen, the format goes mostly unnoticed – that is, when it’s not distractingly bad. At some points during my screening (especially in panning CGI shots of the countryside) buildings seemed to almost fold into one-another where they met – instead of maintaining the illusion that the viewer was circling the structures in a 3D space. It was a bizarre glitch, and may actually have to do with the CGI modeling of the landscape (not the 3D itself), but it was distracting no matter who is to blame.

In the end, it’s hard to recommend Conan the Barbarian to moviegoers who are looking for anything but a violent rough and tumble adventure movie. Despite the action-packed look of the trailer, most of the set-pieces are average at best – and combined with shallow characters and some flat performances, it should be easy for filmgoers to find a movie that succeeds in delivering a more exciting fantasy escape than Conan the Barbarian. Similarly, die-hard Conan fans tempted by this film will probably find more enjoyment in rewatching Schwarzenegger’s version of the character – even if it lacks the (now standard) “gritty realism” forced onto a lot of these Hollywood remakes.

If you’re still on the fence about Conan the Barbarian, check out the trailer below:


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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Conan the Barbarian is now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. I saw Conan after watching Fright Night, and I probably shouldn’t have because I agree with Ben’s assessment. At one point, I even got bored and started falling asleep. 1.5 maybe 2 out of 5 for me.

  2. “Both Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan give perplexingly odd performances as Zym and Marique, respectively — and serve as a good example of how Conan the Barbarian routinely touches on complicated, albeit messed up, relationships and potential plot twists, and then does nothing with them.”

    You hit the nail on the head with that one! There was soo much opportunity to have them become really evil, sadistic, and psychotic villians. There was nothing about them that made them so special that only Conan could defeat them. I would’ve kept Marique alive so she could grow into an evil and revengeful sorceress for the next film.

    All in all, the movie started out really high and exciting and just continued to fizzle out towards the end.

  3. Apart from the opening scenes with Conan as a child, the movie sucked. No development or depth to the story or the characters. Rose McGowan and Rachel Nichols were wasted big time, not to mention Conan’s warrior side kick (whatever his name was!).

  4. Just as I suspected and got shot down for – this movie is not too good. However, if you guys want a laugh – go watch the Inbetweeners movie if you can get it, so funny.

  5. None of the Conan movies get it right . Robert E Howards character is not a civilized man and does not behave like one at least not until his middle age when he has spent decades interacting with civilization . He is a man of very few words and most of them are either curses or questions . A lot of the time his straight-line thinking puts him at a loss with the complexaties of civilized men ( he’s not stupid just not educated ) and a lot of the time in his early years he’s behind the curve interlectually due to a lack of understanding . Physically it’s another ball game and being face to face with Conan is like being face to face with a full grown adult tiger except that you might survive if you’r not trying to kill him . His instincts , strength and reflexes are those of a wild animal and no inteligent , educated man would take him on by choise . This distinction between the barbarian and civilized men is totally lost in all the hollywood attempts . The first Arnie movie got closest but still no cigar .

  6. I’m really not sure what movie everyone else here watched, but this movie was NOT Conan. Albeit, it had ONE or TWO moments of glee, mostly due to the violence. Aside from that, this was a thinly veiled attempt to re-create something that honestly should never have been re-created. Conan is not a man with extended dialogue, who cracks jokes and is skinnier than the average drunk barbarian in the movie! The supporting cast sounded like they were trying out for shakespeare in the park. Where were the grunts and noises? (And what the hell was up with the note..”Meet at the ruins, mid-day, and come alone” Yeah, I’m sure Conan would write that!! BRUTAL!!) These are barbarians people. I had VERY high hopes for this movie, but should have known going up and against Arnold and John Milius, there was no way they could come close. How the hell can you go from his childhood to a voice over that skips 15 years??? In the end, I seriously do not recommend this movie to anyone, ever. Please, please let this franchise die. To me, Destroyer was the last Conan movie.

    And oh yeah…WHERE WAS THE RIDDLE OF STEEL??? Arnold is rolling over in his grave.

  7. My wife LOVED this movie. I was right there with her until the second half. I went from loved to “liked” when I had a WTH moment with the “Morning After” scene. How does one go from being on the coastline and needing to get back on a ship, to wandering around a frigg’n forest?
    Kid Conan was awesome! I thought that would set the tone of the movie, but it lightened up a bit and Conan was more of a rogue and privateer than anything. Having said all that, Jason plays a great Conan. He handled the sword very very well.
    The action was great, but there were way too many up-close shots. That kept you from seeing the fights clearly.
    I’ll take the 70′s sloppy Kung-Fu editing over this close camera fight crap!
    I will add that the sand creatures were far from “Mummy” like. I dug the way they entered the sand like Greg Louganis.

    Ok, I’m done ranting. If they make another, we’ll be there because we both like turning off the old grey matter once in a while.

  8. My husband and I loved it! We’ve been waiting for another movie with all action. Jason played Conan great. This website is great! I’m so tired of all the other sites bashing this movie. Conan’s a barbarian as he should be in the movie.

  9. Leave it to Hollywood to botch the project two times in a row–Robert E Howard was one of the greatest writers of pulp fiction of the 40s and created a number of characters of which Conan the Cimmerian was the most popular. Conan is a hulking, lithe (not super-pumped Arnoldish) lowbrow character with a very animalistic, pragmatic view of the world, his blue eyes “smouldering”. Conan is brought up against everyting from giant slugs, furry snakes, devious treasure hunters, magicians large and small to ape men to ancient demons which survived as remnants from an earlier age of magic. and was just as likely to win a kings randsom in an afternoon and squander it by the end of the week. Conan once even knocked out a guard with a beef bone he was chewing on (there is a rye humor to Howard’s work too). Yet leave it to some Hollywood hacks to think that they could write a better “Conan story” than the originator of Conan himself. I walked out of the movie before it was over and had a cheese sandwhich, which was vastly more interesting. Pathetic job boys…. Hollywood crap at its finest…..

  10. I am a long time Conan fan. I’ve read books, comics and saw that horrible Schwarzenegger’s version. I hated it. If you think that the new version had no “character” development, and that Schwarzenegger’s one was better because of that, THEN you need to re-watch that movie. I am not saying that this new film got the whole “Conan Icon” right, but it was definitely BETTER than the first attempt. also damsel in distress, fighting cheap B scale monsters and cheap magic are Conan trade marks alright. I think this movie was good, to me it felt like one of my comic books turned into a movie. Also the new Conan movie is NOT a re-make of the first one. Anyone with a working brain realizes that. This movie was obviously starting everything from scratch. Staying with the monk and lived happily ever after is a VERY un-conan thing to do, HE ALWAYS leaves them to mourn his crushing love, don’t complain about that, if anything that was the MOST Conan like thing in the movie. And to end my ranting, Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian doesn’t loosely borrow from Robert. E. Howards, have you ever read the books? because if you have then you probably have very bad reading comprehension.

    • Bless you Mara. You hit the nail on the head and nothing more needs to be said

    • While the Arnold version of Conan was perhaps not very true to the literature, it was at least a solid movie in its own right. It had not only a plot, but plot themes (e.g. the villain looking for power from steel, then magic, and finally faith). Plus, Conan went through three distinct phases of development (slave, thief/hedonist, revenge).

      Plus, it has an excellent non-traditional ending. It doesn’t end with a fight scene. It ends with the villain telling Conan that since he is driven by revenge, once he dies then Conan will be adrift in the world without purpose. And Conan kills him anyway, as he is okay with that.

      Instead, the new one is basically just a hack-em-up. It reminds me very much of Kull the Conqueror. This film seems to have limited no character development and no real novelty or subtlety to the themes. Which while it might make it run a bit more like a comic book (which often expand on character development over a series, rather than a book), it doesn’t mean that is a great pattern to follow when you make a movie.

  11. Are you guys all being paid by the movie studios??????????????????

    This remake is not even worth bearing the name Conan. Now the original was not 5 stars but this one, what is below 0 stars.

    The story line is horrible, Conan can barely speak – he sounds like a retard, there is not even a small likeliness to the original movie, Conan is at least 150Lb lighter than Arnold, the ending is so abrupt that you feel that they ran out of budget at editing and just had to end it there, the evil witch is so lame, the sex scene is like two teens playing spin the bottle, Conan’s sidekick is like one of the Black Eye Peas, The one eyed thief is …………. well do you want me to go on???????

  12. Long time reader of the original Howard. Now I’m not saying this wasn’t a good movie. Just call it something else. Tonan, Fonan, Sonan. Pick a letter. They got more of the mythology right, but it is obvious that the film makers did not read the original stories, at all. Again, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but I was hoping for something more faithful.

    Oh and by the way, those enemies that the young Conan fought at the beginning were Pict warriors. Read up on those. He might have been able to take out one, but many. Not likely. I don’t care who you are. That is just an example of why I know the writers did not bother to read an inch of the stories.

    Anyway cool movie. Check it out! Woo hoo!

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  15. I loved the original Conan, watched it with my dad a lot who, like me, is a fan of Arnold’s movies. So for me, I was coming into this remake already knowing more than likely It’d probably suck. It does. Conan the Barbarian is just another crappy remake of a classic. The adored story we all know, is simply missing aside from Conan losing his family and village in the beginning there is nothing and I mean nothing remotely trying to follow the original Conan story. The film jumps scene to scene, location to location so quickly without nearly any dialogue explaining why this this and this is happening. Its a lot like that remake of Clash of the Titans, flashy jumpy scenes, impossible to follow, just punching kicking slashing and beating with no explanation what is happening. These types of films have no substance at all. 1/5

  16. Terrible movie. Full of one-liners and cliches

  17. Oh well!

  18. Only payed £3 for it, I still feel robbed!

  19. Only payed £3 for it, I still feel robbed