‘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:

[poll id=”179″]

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. Oh damn :-/

  2. So, is this more on par with a Kevin Sorbo “Hercules”?

    • I would say Arnold’s Conan was on par with Hercules. Both were campy but well loved by many and are massive cult classivs/Guilty pleasures.

      • I think you are WAY off on that.

        The question was more directed to Ben with regard to the current movie.

        • I’m not way off at all. You may not like the Hercules, but he does have a huge cult following and the show was successful for some time.

        • I actually agree with Daniel here. (Fan of Hercules here)

          • I actually enjoyed the Hercules show as well. It wasn’t great but I was a kid and it was fun. I don’t think I could stomach watching it now, but I’ve never been big on Nostalgia.

    • It’s definitely “Grittier” and “Less Campy” than Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules. Though, somewhat similar to what Daniel F said – I’d probably enjoy watching Hercules a bit more because it takes itself a little less seriously.

      Conan takes itself very seriously and tries to be an action packed, as well as bloody, fantasy film – and ends up with a few good action moments (but a lot of flat ones) and plenty of blood.

  3. I really Conan The Barbarian turns out to be great because it is last movie of the summer’s holidays so let’s hope this film turns out to be great because the cast seems okay and Jason Momoa looks the part.

    Still I think that remakes aren’t a good idea.

  4. Hey Ben,

    Any chance its redeeming enough, to warrant a sequel? Such a watse of Momoa if they can’t get the series off the ground. Damn.

    • I think the script is what really fails the film – because Momoa as well as most of the other characters are wasted. He’s got a decent amount of charm even for a character that spends the entire movie violently tearing people apart. All of that appeal is on Momoa who manages to walk that fine line.

      It wasn’t a super expensive film to make, so it’s certainly possible we’ll see another one – with a better script and a more interesting villain, I wouldn’t be totally agains the idea.

      • Finally saw it, feel the same way as you, just no development, which really is a shame, because the look and feel are dead on, like you said though weak script.

        Despite being relatively cheap, looks like they wont even come close to recovering cost, too bad, hope Momoa can find more work.

        The film essentially starts off great and slowly and consistently loses quality as the film progresses.

  5. The lead is good in Game of Thrones, but this film has looked terrible since it was first announced in the 80’s… wait wrong film. Seriously though this film wasn’t looking good from the start and the trailers screamed “Brainless Blood fest”. Still would of been nice if it had turned out good, but at this point did anyone actually think it was gonna be?

    It’s really sad that we just have not had a good Sword type fantasy movie in years since Lord of the Rings i believe. Odd that TV seems to be doing a much better job with fantasy with Game of Thrones and the sadly now ended Camelot.

    • Although it didn’t exactly have swords, I thought Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole was a pretty good high fantasy movie.

      • Don’t get me started on The Owls movie I thought that was one of the worst films I’d seen in years and Snyder proved to me why he really was a one hit wonder with Wathcmen. I’d rather go watch Season of the witch and that movie sucked. If you liked it that’s fine, but I hated that movie and the critics panned it as well so it also wasn’t well received.

        • Daniel you lost some cool points for even admitting that you watched that flick! LOL.

          • Nate

            Meh it’s my goal to try and watch every movie that comes out in any given year or at least in more recent years.

        • Snyder has several excellent movies under his belt long before making the KIDS film he was contracted to do.

          Dawn of the Dead remake was excellent.

          300 was an enjoyable testosterone fest.

          THEN came Watchmen

          and I actually liked Sucker Punch, though they certainly could have done more with it.

          • Cplhicks

            That would be your opinion I disagree completely. I think Snyder has made nothing but garbage other than Watchmen which probably would of been better in someone elses hands but he managed to make it good some how.

            300 IMO was mindless flash garbage. It was unintellegent and was nothing more than the Oh factor.

            His dawn of the dead was terrible he removed everything that made the first one worth watching. He took away the interesting aspects and made it overly simplistic crap.

            Sucker Punch was the worst of all. It was all about showing off girls. It was dumb had no real plot, made no sense and the style was simply ugly.

  6. Thank goodness this movie has been released! Now I don’t have to look at that awful trailer every time I go to watch a movie! (EVERY time I go to a cinema, they play the SAME, MINDLESS trailer for this movie – it’s terrible)

    Seriously, I will admit, I haven’t seen the film, and I’m not planning on doing so either. It looks mind-numbing and tedious, truly distasteful and, frankly, boring.

    No thanks, the review says it all.

  7. Campy? Sure, the second movie Conan the Destroyer was very campy, but not the first one. Watching your mother get her head chopped off, seeking vengeance to the point of getting crucified and coming back from the brink of death to lose your lover in a bargain with demons. I don’t see this as camp.
    You can say that it was an 80’s film with the sense of film making that came from this period, but not camp. The fact that they didn’t let Arnold speak too often and used a beautiful movie score tell this story made this film a classic.
    I would put the original up against any remake and it would always be a better film. It was a tale of woe. Do you not know the riddle of steel?

    • ^ Winning!

      Couldn’t have said it better.

      • I second that notion!

        One question. Does Conan punch any camels in this one?

    • Correct original is actually better, and yes Destroyer was the TERRIBLE (slightly enjoyable camp), there was nothing campy about Arnold’s Barbarian.

  8. I went to the midnight showing last night, decent turn out for a midnight run that wasn’t advertised or even posted in the theater.

    I liked a lot of the movie, but it seemed like something was missing. Momoa does an excellent job in the role and if the writing had been better and they had gotten away from the “Revenge” theme it would be a great film. Good action, weapons were correct and Momoa could handle the sword like it was a living thing in his hand. One of the points I think they missed was the scope of the “cities” that are represented, they looked like mud huts with domes and nothing more. There was nothing showing the opulence of cities like Aquilonia, Hyrkania or even Nemedia, it was all sand and dirt.

    My recommendation would be to catch the movie on a matinee and enjoy it for what it is nothing more.

  9. Damn, I had high hopes for this movie. Looks like a rental.

  10. “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.”

    Who want’s more than this in a Conan flick? Swords, blood, faces getting smashed in, no long inner reflective dialogs.

    Just a bunch of people getting their A.. kicked!

    I’m there

    • “Who want’s more than this in a Conan flick?”

      Anyone with taste that actually appreciates good films?

      • Daniel,

        I’m letting that one go man. Just because I like you. LOL!

  11. Conan 1982 is not a good movie. It had some good moments but it’s a very poor film. And It was Conan only in name. Conan 2011 is not a good movie, but there are a lot of action, Momoa is a better actor than Arnold-1982, and There’s more original Conan here than in Conan 1982. Ok, only a bit…
    Conan 2011 worst thing: shaky camera…ugh!

    Original Conan deserves more.

    • I agree the Book Conan is much better. Its weird cause the mention some of his adventures and those were taken from the books, so why not use THOSE stories.

  12. Two out of five stars is disappointing. It might keep me out of the theatres, thats not decided yet. Part of me really wants to see Conan done really well on film, the other part of me is thinking that he just needs to remain a literary hero. I agree, why cant they just tell the stories from the books. They could do it like the 80s Twilight Zone movie, fit several episodes into one 2 hour movie, since most Conan stories are short stories. Why not do it that way?

  13. It deserves at least one more star, maybe 1.5 more. It is what it is, and Nispel did a pretty good job of getting the epic feel of the old Savage Sword comics on the screen.

    I was a bit disappointed that the whole “fire and ice” thing wasn’t followed up a bit more. Would’ve been nice to see Conan develop a bit. But then, he doesn’t really develop in any of the other media he’s in, so why should this be different?

    Also wouldn’t have minded seeing something like Kurt Busiek’s take on Conan’s early life. Momoa’s youthful enough that he could’ve pulled off a teen-age (18 or 19) version of the character.

    I actually hope they get to do a sequel. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like the original plan from back in the day of having a new Conan every couple of years. That or a Cinemax series… it’s probably too low-brow for HBO.

  14. i Love this film and Conan the Barbarain

  15. what i dont understand is why they had to half remake anreis garbage and ther other half had to be some half baked hero plot. the character has been through tons of amazing adventures that have both showed of his intellect and been bloody, would it have been that hard for the idiotic writers to go through even the comics to come up with a narrative.

    arnie’s conan sucked hard, i really cant see why anyone would consider that chaotic PoS a ‘cult classic’, it/he doesn’t even portray the conan character properly, having recently read all (up to date) of the dark horse comics (for conan) i can say this movie would more then likely be as close to anyone has gotten to the character.

    this movie had potential to be a great action fantasy, but in the end turned out to be a barbaric version of rambo 4 >:(

  16. The best part of the movie was the opening scenes with Conan as an adolescent. Kid Conan was way more interesting(as in a better actor) than adult Conan. I would have been content if they would have kept the adolescent/teen phase throughout the entire movie and made it like a prequel, that Jason character was not a convincing Conan. 2 stars. Tops.

  17. I can’t understand what more you want from a reborn Conan movie.
    They had to tell his story about revenge, and in my opinion it was awesome.

    Momoa is the perfect Conan. He is a Barbarian so why do you feel like hee needs to show more feelings and so.
    He did the role perfect.
    I could only wish the movie would be a bit longer.

    I really really hope that they will make a sequel.
    I think the movie deserves 4 stars IMO.
    Arnold is not even half the Conan Momoa is!

  18. the truth is hes just not big enough to pull it of, he would be better of playing conan at age 18. we need a big conan. get sylvester stallone in there hes massive.

    • Massive you say?! He’s 5’9″!!! He would get lost in all of those brawls.

  19. A quick question to the reviewer: are you sure you’re remembering the original Conan film correctly? “The original Conan was a campy (and bloody) swords and sorcery adventure”

    The first two Ahnold films have been playing all week on one of the movie channels here, without commercials, and certainly un-edited for content, and they are FAR from being “bloody” in any really meaningful sense.

    I watched large swathes of both films last night, and most of the fight sequences involved huge swords cutting across people with…. no visible blood, cuts (nor guts) or anything, just stunt extras throwing themselves to the ground in mock agony.

    They could have been fighting with broom handles and would have gotten the same result.

  20. if the movie has not been released yet, why are we listening ton one persons opinion. this is Conan people not Othello or shakespeare.

  21. Everybody go see the movie, have a good time, By Crom let the movie make money and then we will get a better sequel, remember the 1st X-men movie cmon reviewer cut the movie some slack, really dont want to see another Transformers movie.

  22. I had high expectations going into this movie. Hoping that with an actor I admired like Jason Momoa ( of Atlantis fame ) the franchise could be resurrected. Thinking they would use Momoa’s ability to add charm and timing to enhance the campiness of the original, along with 21st century C.G.I to make the new Conan great visually also. I could not have been more wrong. The director (Marcus Nispel) never even tried to bring out any campiness with this movie. Dare I say there wasn’t one joke delivered in the new Conan. To sit through a movie without one laugh or chuckle is hard to do, but they made it possible. Nispel was also unable to even have any sustained interaction with the Conan character and any other secondary actors. How are we to judge Momoa’s portrayal if he is given nothing to do. It was almost as if Conan was a secondary character to Steven Lang (Khalar Zym) and Rose McGowan (Marique). With all of this said the acting was not the problem in this movie, what was then one might ask? It was the Cinematographer (Thomas Kloss) my gosh what was he on? He would go jumping from scene to scene with no continuity what so ever. One moment Conan & Tamara (Rachel Nichols) would be leaving a ship on a rocky ocean front, next they would be deep into the Black forest lands of somewhere else, from there to a desert, a snow cover mountain next to a jungle back to another rocky bluffed ocean front. Earlier when I said I didn’t have anything to laugh at in this movie. I take it back, because the cinematography was so laughable it bordered on comical. I feel sorry for these actors that were subjected to both Nispel and Kloss. Mario.

    • That sounds more like a scene editing problem than a cinematography problem.

      shaky cam = cinematography problem
      scenes cut together strange = editing problem


    Heh. Kidding. This site is pretty fair, and sometimes, a little too nice to some films. I’m going to wait till it goes to “da tree-fiddy moo-ies.”

  24. this jason momoa guy might be a good actor ,but wheres the muscles. heck i was bigger then this guy at age 16. i think they give handicaps to actors these days that do weightlifting natural but the fact is theres alot of massive guys who are natural and thats who we need to play these roles. we need a big dumb barbarian not some small scrawny guy.

    • He’s the right size for Conan, Arnold was way too big, he couldn’t even swing his sword properly, they had to tell him to cut back on the bulking up. Read the old Conan novels then you’ll understand he’s more than just a mountain of muscle.

  25. I saw the 3D version of this on Friday. I am a big fan of the books, the Arnold movies of the 80s, and the Frazetta artwork that was so inspiring. After reading the review on this site, I was ready to be disappointed. But after 10 minutes, I couldn’t have been happier. I was a little kid all over again, watching Conan with my Dad (who has long since passed away).

    This is the best Sword and Sorcery movie to grace the big screen in over a decade. The only thing I did not like about the movie was the choice of narrator at the beginning. It is impossible to fill Mako’s shoes, but Morgan Freeman is so over used these days (and didn’t even appear in the film).

    Jason Mamoa really did a great job and in many ways was a better Conan than Arnold was. He was a better fit and I was glad to see Conan shown to be a hero not a slave. There was even a reference to the elephant tower.

    I was also worried they’d pull punches (like the disgrace that was Conan the Destroyer), but they most definitely did not. There was plenty of skin and violence. I was never bored for a minute and was left wishing I could watch it over and over.

    The 3D was subtle and well done, but I don’t think was necessary at all. I just couldn’t get to a 2D showing at the time I had available to see the movie.

    • I’d actually agree with this. I am 51 and read the books around the ages of 7-9. I expected nothing from this movie from all the critical reviews and was amazed at how “swept back” I was by the scenery and action. The movie brought back the memory of the books and while I loved the first Conan film for its distinctiveness, this one is a good start and no other movie came close to feeling like you were watching Howard’s books onscreen. Ripe for a more fully developed character in a sequel and definitely worth watching.

  26. The review was pretty much spot on. I love Arnolds Conan and this one doesn’t even come close to the original.

  27. I have to say that Conan is not for the weak-kneed simpleton who wrote the disparaging article. Apparently, he hasn’t read any of the Robert E. Howard versions to know that they aren’t campy frollicks in the world of sword and sorcery, and basing your opinion on Arnie’s movies is a half-step in the right direction. Conan was NOT enslaved for most of his youth: read ‘the thing in the crypt’ to get it right. Also, what’s wrong with a testosterone laden movie for guys? I’m tired of movies and TV giving women the exclusive rights to testicles. They kill without apologies (Terminator, Underworld, et cetera) yet we guys have to wimp out and be sensitive. I say IT’S ABOUT TIME we take back our BALLS! We let them have THEIR movies, why can’t you let us keep OURS?!? If you want to be a sissy and trash this movie, so be it, but don’t try to force your PC crap into MY arena. We men have to defend our territories!

    • Well said dude this is a man movie and is totally badass. I will always be a fan of the two original conan movies but this one keeps the spirit of the original movie. Anyone who doesn’t get it well too bad.

      • Dude, I’m a girl and I liked it. It’s called Conan the Barbarian, so yeah, killing wihout apologies… Make a sequel with a better scropt and director…voila. Momoa was a far better Conan than Arnold. Sorry if some disagree

      • Hey come on…im a girl and I loved this film! It had the perfect amount of violence, adored it! Just think there should be a sequel but give momoa better lines. Didnt do him enough justice.

  28. I watched the originals a couple of days before going to see this version. Letdown city. Didn’t like this videogamesque version at all. Stiff acting, OMG Rose McGowen was terrible(razzie nom) and the script seemed weak. Jason Momoa looked great and acted snarly and all, but it was all pretty stale. I give it 1.8 stars out of 5. This thing should do well at the Razzie’s.