Nu Image Films/ Millenium Films/Paradox Entertainment
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Produced by Avi Lerner and Boaz Davidson
Written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood
Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard
I had high hopes for this reboot/re-imagining of Robert E. Howard’s magnificent creation in the first five minutes of the movie because we see for ourselves what Howard wrote in his stories: that Conan was born on a battlefield. It’s a horrifically gory birth as Conan’s father Corin (Ron Perlman) performs a rude C-section in order to fulfill his wife’s last wish: that she see her son before she dies. And as men fight, slay and die around him, Corin holds up his bloody son for the Cimmerian god Crom to see.
That’s the only bit of REH we get in the entire movie as the longer it goes on after that, the more disappointing and generic it gets. Young Conan (Leo Howard) grows up with a wild, hot temper that his father tries to discipline and direct to no avail. There’s a nice scene in here that echoes a similar scene in 1982’s “Conan The Barbarian” where Conan’s father forges a sword and Ron Perlman is easily as good here as William Smith was back then when he played Conan’s father. Unfortunately, Mr. Perlman is never given any dialog anywhere near as good as the marvelous speech about The Riddle of Steel Mr. Smith gets to deliver. Conan’s village is wiped out and his father tortured by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) a powerful warlord hunting for the scattered pieces of The Mask of Acheron, a mystical artifact made from the skulls of long dead kings and consecrated in blood. Whoever possesses The Mask of Acheron will have the power to conquer the world. Khalar Zym wants The Mask in order to resurrect his dead wife, herself a sorceress of immense power. Corin has a piece of The Mask which Khalar Zym finds with the help of his witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan).
Twenty years later, now grown up to be Jason Momoa, Conan is a pirate who learns that Khalar Zym and his daughter plan to sacrifice a pureblood descendant of the wizards of Acheron to unlock The Mask’s power as he now possesses all the pieces. Conan rescues Tamara (Rachel Nichols) who is the last of the purebloods but in a series of events that are horribly contrived and convoluted to give some sort of depth and meaning to the tired plot, she is captured by Zym and Marique and naturally Conan has to rescue her with the help of the master thief Ela-Shan (Said Taghmaoui).
Now, I’m sure this sounds to you like a thrilling movie but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Except for the scene of Conan’s birth, there is nothing of Robert E. Howard in this movie at all. Despite the $90 million budget, this movie actually looks cheaper than the 1982 “Conan The Barbarian” and has none of the lush sets and exotic costume designs of that movie. The big fight scene with sand creatures conjured up by Marique falls flat. In fact, for a sword-and-sorcery movie there’s not much sorcery in it.
None of the problems with the movie I lay at the feet of Jason Momoa. In fact, I liked him a helluva lot here and I only pray to Crom that he gets another shot at playing Conan as he did his absolute best and it’s not his fault he had to work with such a dull story. And unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, he does a good job of showing Conan’s humorous side. REH himself made mention in his stories that unlike most Cimmerians, Conan likes to laugh, have a good time and has a wicked sense of humor. Jason Momoa gets that across. Especially in a scene where he uses a bad guy to deliver a message via catapult. And yet he’s totally serious when showing Conan doing what he does best: slaughtering by day, drinking and wenching by night.
Stephen Lang is an immensely talented actor and knows how to play a bad guy but the screenplay just doesn’t give him one to play. And don’t ask me what my girl Rose McGowan is doing in this mess. If you’ve been following my reviews you know I love Rose McGowan to death. She’s enormously talented and due to her co-hosting stint on TCM’s ‘The Essentials’ where she displayed an extraordinary knowledge of classic movies I know she’s brainy as hell. But this role is so brain-dead and devoid of anything meaningful I can only surmise she had hefty bills to pay and did this one for the money.
So should you see the 2011 incarnation of CONAN THE BARBARIAN? I’m mixed on this. On one hand, I say no because this is nothing but a generic barbarian movie that is Conan only in name. Robert E. Howard’s character and his Hyborian Age do not come to life on the screen here. Stick with 1982’s “Conan The Barbarian” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John Milius as that is the superior film even after all this time. Hell, even Albert Pyun’s 1982 “The Sword and The Sorcerer” is closer to REH than this movie. Even the score is disappointing but then again, the only way this movie could equal the magnificent music of the original would be to have Basil Poledouris do the music and he is regrettably no longer with us.
But on the opposing appendage, Jason Momoa is terrific to watch and he nails the character. It’s not his fault the director and screenwriters let him down. And his performance in the movie deserves to be seen. Otherwise 2011’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN is a major letdown for fans of Robert E. Howard.