Review of Conan the Barbarian

I’m sure someone will yell, “Heretic!” after reading my review of the new Conan the Barbarian (starring Jason Momoa and Ron Perlman). Yes, we all know about the time honored version that features Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is no replacing that version and I’m happy to say that this movie doesn’t try. I’m not going to get into the political debate of how each version has strayed from the original Robert E. Howard books. You can find this sort of discussion in a number of places online, including the Amazon comments for each movie. No, my review is more along the lines of answering the question of whether this new version has entertainment value. After all, someone goes to the movies to be entertained.

Fortunately, the director, Marcus Nispel, did something right—he didn’t try to compete with the original movies. This is something different and it truly is entertaining, but in a different sort of way than either the books or the original movies. The movie begins with Conan’s childhood, but you get a snapshot and not the fuller treatment of the older version of Conan the Barbarian. The books don’t cover Conan’s childhood at all (at least, not so far as I know). This version of the movie is a bit more violent than the originals, but far less gory than some other movies I’ve seen. The movie does indeed have a plot and it isn’t all about how much violence Conan can commit in the shortest time possible. However, you won’t want to take your kids to this movie if they’re squeamish about blood or a bit of nudity.

The characters are polished in this movie to the point where you want to boo the bad guy and you feel bad when the hero has a hard time of it. There is an definite emotional attachment that takes place, which is something every movie should strive to achieve. If you don’t care about the characters, then it’s usually pointless to watch the movie. However, when it comes to larger than life heroes, it’s still tough to beat Arnie. You’ll like this Conan for his humanity, rather than being larger than life. I thought Marique’s (Rose McGowan) metal fingertips were a nice touch, as was the hairdo that made her look as evil as you thought she should be.

Needless to say, the graphic effects in this movie are well beyond anything the original Conan movies can offer. In some cases, the eye candy proved a little distracting to me. I found my attention diverted from what the characters were trying to convey in a few places, especially near the end of the movie when dramatic events were drawing to a close. Just how many cave-ins does a single movie need?

Overall, I thought that this movie does a great job of entertaining the viewer who isn’t looking for a direct takeoff of the original movies or the books. This movie stands on its own and you have to accept it on those terms or you’ll be disappointed. The scenery is superb, the dialog excellent, and the actors have that certain appeal required to make you care about them. I think that eventually this movie will become just as much of a cult classic as the original Conan the Barbarian and I definitely plan to add it to my collection when it comes out.