Review: Conan The Barbarian

PLOT: Conan (Jason Momoa) avenges his father’s death at the hands of a mad warlord (Stephen Lang), on a quest to become a God.

REVIEW: CONAN THE BARBARIAN begins with a shot that lets you know exactly what kind of film you’re watching. As Morgan Freeman (!) narrates the beginning of CONAN’s tale (a la Mako), he describes Conan, as being born of battle. Just in case you weren’t sure if old Morgan was speaking metaphorically, we get a pov shot, inside Conan’s mother’s womb of baby Conan, waiting to be born as a sword rips open his mother’s womb. Cheesy? Yes, but also balsy, so I’ll give it that.

From there, CONAN THE BARBARIAN settles into a somewhat decent 100 minute yarn, that’s more about action and adventure than the somewhat Wagnerian John Millius original, which gave us an iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead. If anything, this new CONAN is more like the sequel, CONAN THE DESTROYER, albeit with a healthy dose of ultraviolence and depravity.

If this new 21st century CONAN THE BARBARIAN was a Starz original series like SPARTACUS: BLOOD & SAND, I’d probably be into it, but as a movie it feels low rent (this, despite a rumored $90 Million budget). For me, the best part of the film is the opening twenty minutes, where we see young Conan as he learns the secret of steel from his wise father (Ron Perlman- riding a career high with his awesome stint on SONS OF ANARCHY). Young Conan is played by a thirteen year old martial artist named Leo Howard, and damn if his big action sequence, where he takes on four cannibals with a mixture of parkour, martial arts, and swordplay, isn’t the best part of the film.

It actually feels like a letdown once Jason Momoa takes over, as his brawny swordplay is never quite as visceral compared to what we got in the first half hour. While he’s not Schwarzenegger (who could be?), Momoa is fine in his own right. He’s charismatic, and his roguish charm gives the character a unique style that’s unlike the first two films (but more like the Robert E. Howard books, from what I gather). Despite being loaded with action, it’s all kinda boring, as it’s nothing you haven’t seen dozens of times before.

It doesn’t help that the story is so ho-hum. Stephen Lang makes a boring villain, and his quest to reassemble a mask that will give him God-like powers is old hat. It certainly doesn’t compare to James Earl Jones’ iconic Thulsa Doom from the original. I also despised the vampy Rose McGowan, who chews the scenery, but has some downright atrocious lines to deliver (probably not her fault though- this ain’t Shakespeare).

The obligatory love interest is played by the striking Rachel Nichols, who’s a pure-blooded priestess Lang has to sacrifice in order to bring his dead witch wife back to life. Nichols is incredibly sexy, but probably too contemporary to really work in a film like this, and her chemistry with Momoa is non-existent.

All in all, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, to me anyways, is a boring, disposable action flick- although I do have to give it points for some decent photography (although the 3D conversion is predictably atrocious), and the fact that it went for the hard- R rating. It’s never terrible, but it’s not that memorable either. Momoa may yet star in a great Conan film (or not, as the opening weekend take was lackluster), but this ain’t it.

Review: Conan The Barbarian




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.