Review: 'Conan the Barbarian' An Uninteresting Story of Man & Sword

August 21, 2011

Conan the Barbarian Review

The willingness to zone out during Conan the Barbarian comes within the film's first 10 seconds. An over-long, unnecessarily explanatory voice over setting up the world in which the action takes place is cliche enough. When it's done by Morgan Freeman, you know you're dealing with a film that has no interest in originality. So you zone out, lose interest, stop listening to what's being said and start wondering how many zeros Freeman's paycheck had in it. That's a problem, especially when it comes before a sword is swung or a head is lopped off. Granted, Conan the Barbarian has that in abundance, but like that opening narration, it's never interesting, serves hardly a purpose to the "story" at hand, and pieced together by director Marcus Nispel, lumbers through without focus or excitement.

The moments after that banal intro tease at a more intriguing design. From Freeman's voice we see Conan as a fetus, still in his mother's womb, and we learn this warrior-to-be was born on the battlefield. His father, Corin, played by Ron Perlman, cuts Conan out of his wounded mother so she can see her son before she dies. It's a brutal scene, one that seems rather gutsy - poor choice of words - for a Hollywood film, but it at least amps you to the possibility that this is going to be one gritty movie.

Sadly, from there, it feels tame. The story moves quickly to Conan as a young boy, a violent and very strong boy who seems will one day be as fearless a warrior as his father. All seems in order for this young boy to grow into a grand ruler until a warlord, played by Stephen Lang, and his men intervene, destroys the village, and murders everyone in it except for the young boy. Vengeance on the warlord is sworn, and Conan, who eventually grows into Jason Momoa, seeks that vengeance with brilliantly bloody results.

It's not tame in the sense that it's bloodless. Conan the Barbarian is very much an R-rated film full of gory deaths, grim details, and the most topless women seen in one film in quite a while. But it's tame in the sense that it lacks an absorbing quality, something that grasps hold of your attention and refuses to let go. Nothing like that opening battle scene. When Conan swings his sword, blood gushes. When he bashes someone against a rock, it looks akin to a ripe tomato being slammed against a wall. But it's never exciting nor does it ever elicit a sense of fun.

Much of that comes from the film's lack of structure. Always charged to its peak, Conan the Barbarian's idea of duality in any character is that they're either screaming or bleeding. Outside of those opening moments when Conan as a boy watches his father die, no conflict arises, at least none that isn't rushed through and solved with a minimal amount of working through. When Conan realizes he needs to go somewhere, we cut to that place with the barbarian arriving. Outside of the vast landscapes and structures - brought about impressively with top-notch design and admirable computer effects - there's hardly any real scope to Conan's world.

The same could be said for the action. Nispel does a fine job keeping it all in focus. There are even some nicely composed shots and well choreographed stunts thrown in for good measure. A carriage chase early on is about as exciting as it all gets. But the film as a whole views action scenes like saving points in an adventure game. They serve no purpose to what's going on, they don't move anything forward, they just seem like the thing to throw in every 10 to 15 minutes.

Momoa builds Conan with muscle and charm. Here's an actor who uses his charisma to its fullest even when the character he's portraying has little in the way of connectivity to the world or the other characters. There are relationships built. Conan has friends who periodically help him, usually in the most convenient times possible. The connection between the barbarian and Tamara, played by Rachel Nichols, a member of a peaceful group who is taken by the nefarious warlord for her "pure blood", is obvious and unexciting. No, a film like Conan the Barbarian doesn't win or lose because of its character's relationships, but something more weighty might have made all the finely crafted action more interesting.

The villains of the film work. Lang brings the perfect level of grimace and sneer to his character. It might be time to put a moratorium on these fantastical villains who want to be a God, though. Isn't gold and power, two things the warlord holds much of, enough? Rose McGowan plays the warlord's daughter, a witch with enough creepily boisterous moments to almost make McGowan appear as if she's putting effort into it. Look through the Kabuki makeup and metallic claws, though, and you'll find the actress doesn't have much to offer.

With action that peaks early in its brutality and a story that never gives the notion of a direction, Conan the Barbarian is as scattered as a hail of arrows being flung at something unseen. It flails from action piece to action piece, never bringing up a true conflict for its protagonist or toying with a notion of complexity. Even the end careens to an ultimate let-down, nothing as grand as you would expect or hope for from such a fantasy-based story. Witchcraft and giant monsters are teased, and some of that rears its head, but it's ultimately a film about a man and his sword. The man might be somewhat interesting, but the sword is far more dull than hoped for.

Jeremy's Rating: 4.5 out of 10

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This movie was like watching Hercules the legendary journey that had some topless women in it. I give it a 2 out of 5 just for the last part.....

Mr movie on Aug 22, 2011


He wasn't even that jacked. He was soft, Thor and Arnold were jacked.

JackedPatrol on Aug 22, 2011


Unfortunately, this represents the last few generations. Mostly girly boys that cries about everything.

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


Nispel is a horrid director so this is not one bit of a surprise. It seemed like one of those terrible SyFy channel movie.

happy camper on Aug 22, 2011


Found the film fun and entertaining. I went into the film expecting a B Summer Popcorn flick and that is what I got. 

Brandon on Aug 22, 2011


I loved the movie and this review seems completely inaccurate. I think maybe you did zone out and actually didn't pay attention to the movie. It never gives direction? Through out the ENTIRE movie it was obvious Conan was going to avenge his father's death - and clearly stated. If anyone is considering going to see the movie, I'd ignore this review. And Conan was very good looking - so what if he wasn't "ripped"? That just means he is more real. Sorry people, the "ripped" abs aren't realistic - those come from steroids and air brushing. He was big, muscular, and beautiful. I give Conan a 4.5. It was great in 3-D.

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


Seems like "you" were distracted from what's going on in the whole movie by the protagonist's good looks, so you claim.

Jordania on Dec 24, 2011


No, I really wasn't distracted by his good looks. I was just saying that his body was more realistic than the guys on steroids.

Brittany14 on Dec 24, 2011


Watch your tone when you talk about Freeman chum, the man's an absolute legend and you sir are not even fit to tie his shoes, you jumped up, cheap imitation of a movie reviewer!!!!

Dar_el on Aug 22, 2011


How dare you insult Jeremy on his own website? He's the realest of the real. You shut up, you pathetic loser!

Davide Coppola on Aug 22, 2011


Stop liking what I don't like!

Marc Bellmunt on Aug 22, 2011


Excuse me but he's a reviewer giving his "opinion" on a movie. If he can't defend himself and his views then he has no business in his job. So let him stick up for himself if he feels he needs to. As for the movie I enjoyed it. I thought it was great fun and beautiful to watch in terms of set, location and CG. As far as all these reviewers saying they wanted more character story and development, get the hell over yourselves. The Arnold movie had none of that as well no plot, no acting, and really nothing other than Arnold and his abs. I still enjoyed that one just as much as I enjoyed this one. Jason was hot and very nice to look at. I can’t wait to see his future projects and if you haven’t seen Games of Thorne’s yet I highly suggest you do because he id amazing in it.

ak78 on Aug 22, 2011


Thanks, but I'm totally CG.

Jeremy Kirk on Aug 22, 2011


Morgan sucks and this movie proves it, just an uncle tom lookin for a fat pay cheque

Nyder on Nov 15, 2011


I hope they include the following characters in future Conan sequels:Akiro, Bêlit, Fafnir, Red Sonja, Subotai, Valeria, ZenobiaI look forward to seeing the following villains in future Conan sequels:Jenna, Kulan Gath, Mikhal "the Vulture" Oglu, Rexor, Serpent Men, Thorgrim, Thoth-Amon, Thulsa Doom, Vammatar, Xaltotun, Yezdigerd, Zukala

Stella Leggatt on Aug 22, 2011


I was surprised that nothing from the Howard stories, other than Conan himself, was used in this movies when there is so much material to choose from.

Blackmanju on Aug 22, 2011


Movie. Not movies. My bad.

Blackmanju on Aug 22, 2011


Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest Conan of all time. Jason Momoa looks more like Tarzan than Conan.

Fowler on Aug 22, 2011


Arnold - hopefully he get's arnald to slit your throught - MOMOA is Conan!

Savage on Aug 23, 2011


I really enjoyed it. I knew what to expect going in, and I had fun. It was bloody and camp. But Momoa was awesome. That dude is fucking HUGE!!!!

MACRO on Aug 22, 2011


Yeah the movie was solid, that voice over comment in my opinion has no point in a site were Thor which had also a voice over and an even more ridiculous narration to that voice over was praised so high. Lately I've found that internet has sadly given voice to a lot of people that has no idea what cinema is about (sadly not only cinema). Everybody was just in line to hate this movie cause it doesn't remind them of the cheesiness and overrated Arnold's movie, and not a single critic has pointed that this movie has a superior art direction, cinematography than Thor or that terrible Green lantern fiasco.  Conan might not be perfect but so far apart from Thor which was a decent movie and aside from the usual animation flicks, Conan is some of the best from the summer, Cowboys sucked and sadly so did Captain America.

hombreZOO on Aug 22, 2011


I liked it. Way better than the previous Conan movies.

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


It was a good action movie. The only people panning it are the hive-minded know-it-all's who read "professional" reviews...

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


I completely disagree with you... I saw it, and it's NOT a good action movie. Though I might've enjoyed it even less than I should because it was in 3D. But still, this was a mess, it was the most generic, average, middle-of-the-road bland action movie I've seen in a long time. And this is Conan! Should've been better. I'm just proving that anyone can have an opinion that this movie was crap and it doesn't matter who they are. Jeremy didn't like it and just happens to write reviews for us, so he voiced his opinion. Where's your review?

Alex Billington on Aug 22, 2011


I saw it and it IS a good action movie. Action movies aren't meant to be nominated for awards. They are meant to entertain, which it did. The reviews I keep reading suggest it has no plot, which it does, and that the lead's acting is bad. He's a barbarian. He isn't meant to be a scholar. Where's my review? Promise to replace this piece of shit with what I write and I'll get right on it...

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


No, they aren't the only ones panning it. This was not a good action movie. This was probably one of the most boring movies I have ever seen. I didn't care if this character lived or died. I didnt care if the bad guy took over the entire world or not. So where is the suspense? Where is my interest to be held except in repeats ( and poorly executed ones ) of just about every generic, overdone action scene from every generic overdone action movie. Maybe you like seeing the same crap over and over again, but I like some originality, maybe some imagination, at least once in a while. If you cant deliver that, why make this, except for the money? Because you know some people dont care as long as its vapid and brainless entertainment. This was vapid and brainless, but not entertaining at all.

Jonathan Curtis Campbell on Aug 22, 2011


Most action movies are overdone and generic, providing you've been watching movies for the last thirty or forty years. There's not much left to be done.. at least in this genre. If they had tried some twist ending you guys would be bitching about it trying to outsmart itself. If yu guys didn't like the character then you just don't like Conan, period. Conan isn't some smart-ass hero with quick wit. He's a barbarian.. or did you miss that in the title? Perhaps if it had a more fanboy-friendly director you'd have liked it...

Anonymous on Aug 23, 2011


you really liked this better than torn legacy? this movie was like 2/10 for me

Mj765 on Aug 22, 2011


this movie sucked bad.  they say his name wrong and the story is so boring. bummer such a easy movie to make and these dip$h#%s blow it....not dark not scary nothing i love bad movies and this sucked

Ako on Aug 22, 2011


What was boring about the story, exactly? And what exactly did you expect Conan, a barbarian, to be doing?

Anonymous on Aug 22, 2011


This movie rocks hard. They get everything right and the story rocks. It's such a intricate character and these guys nail it.... very dark and loving!  I hate bad movies - so I was rock hard for 2 hrs

Savage on Aug 23, 2011


yeh, you obviously have never read one Conan story  all this dude does is cut people in half

Richardokewole on Aug 26, 2011


Um....Morgan Freeman kicks butt no matter WHAT he narrates....and you all know it.  It's a movie about a barbarian, what EXACTLY were you expecting, Jeremy?  I tried to get my teen to watch the Arnold version that was on TV the other night, and she was bored 10 minutes in (and, may I add, she LOVED "Red Sonja", which Arnold claimed was his worst movie, but I beg to differ....Twins?  Junior?).  It's not an Indie or Oscar flick, it was meant to be bloody and precious little else.  I think it served it's purpose. @Davide Coppola....kindly remove your head from Jeremy's backside.....he needs to bad-mouth another movie and you're giving him roids. =p

Jules on Aug 23, 2011


man, who would have thought this movie would be a lame rehash of all the grainy "early times" battle films. I will now wait til everyone realizes how bad The Immortals will be.

Tyler Morgan on Aug 23, 2011


You can actually blame Brett Ratner for some of this....   The producers (and all the public that read the leaked script) knew the script was crap and so they hired the Outlander duo to write a new one... but along comes Brett Ratner who wants to direct.  But wait! He loves the original script.  The Outlander guys' script gets turned into a potential sequel and the production moves ahead on the turd script.  Eventually Ratner drops out and Nispel fills in where he left off. Yaaaaay.

Outlander on Aug 23, 2011


Some people just don't get movies.....        and I'm talking about all the people in here defending the movie.  Everyone's excuse of "its just an action movie, it isn't here to win awards" is one of the dumbest things I've heard, and it comes after like every poorly received action movie.  Action movies CAN be smart, and have a plot, and have strong characters, and not be brainless fighting like this horrible, piece of trash movie was.   If you like the movie, fine. That's fine. But quit acting like every action movie should be positively received by critics just because there is action in it.

Chazzy on Aug 23, 2011


the excuse is it's just like the comic, exactly like the comic even down to Momoa's build. Most people commenting havnt read book so whats the point in arguing.  It's like saying Batman sucked cus NYC cops woulda just shot the shht outta Joker, movie over

Richardokewole on Aug 26, 2011


Bring in Mel Gibson to direct, co-write and produce a sequel. If anyone can make a great Conan movie he can.

Loser on Aug 23, 2011


Oh my yes! It would be very interesting to see how Mel Gibson would work his antisemitism into the Conan mythology

Lebowski on Aug 23, 2011


What i thought boring about the story is a lot Bl00dwerK. he just cruised around with that girl and got into half ass fights and half ass adventure. i've read 200 issues of conan the barbarian the marvel title. and all of the savage sword of conan. those were the review above states they don't explore the world of hyboria.  the bad guys coming out of the sand i feel like is some golden axe shit not scary. him being a pirate they barley touched on so why put that in. you could have just kept him on horseback. the water monster ... booorinnng... he killed the bad ass bad guys way too easy. feel like they tried to do too much so no focus on anything.  thats whats good about the first og movie. it's basically one book of savage sword one story. i can't remember what issue but it is based on one. shit hard to live up to the og but this wasn't even a 5th of what the og was. not sure if you seen the og but you should check it out Bl00dwerK.

Ako on Aug 24, 2011


just went to wiki to read about og movie "The current president of the United States, Barack Obama, is a collector of Conan the Barbarian comic books and a big fan of the character"

Ako on Aug 24, 2011


I loved the movie. You can't explore all the stories in one movie. It seems to me everyone really over-reacted here.

Sandy on Aug 25, 2011


most people are idiots, oesn't seem like anyone's actually read the books, the movie tanked cus no one wanted to see it, it doesn't make it a bad movie

Richardokewole on Aug 26, 2011


Ok It seems like the guy that wrote this has never read ONE Conan comic, in fact this movie does add structure to the story as Howards writing is usually about Conan going from one story to the next with absolutely no connection in the stories.  The movie makes Lang the tying thread between all the Conan stories, this movie is hopefully the first of a handful and so just introduces him and yes Conan is built more like Momoa in the comics and a little less than Arnold. He lives in the hills, he's not a body builder he's a brute.   So this movie wasn't ENTERTAINING?? REALLY?? Then the books weren't cus this was the book put to screen. I don't know what else was expected of the movie, he cut a dude's nose off stuck his fingers in the wound, shoved a key down his mouth and made him swallow it then dragged him out to a bunch of slaves who ripped his stomach open looking for the key, WHAT THE HELL MORE DO YOU WANT IN A CONAN MOVIE??  and really? really? Morgan Freeman doing a voiceover is what distracted you? and the 'born in blood' story is very important and needs to be explained in the first scene no matter how long, you seemed to trash and compliment the movie simultaneously.   Please read Howard's work then write a new response.

Richardokewole on Aug 26, 2011


This could have been a much better movie if it wasn't an origin story. If all the hype was to be true to the Robert E. Howard stories, simply tell a story about one of the adventures of Conan.  By trying to (unsuccessfully) link Conan's search for a madman who needs an ancient mask to the death of Conan's father, the who concept of a Robert E. Howard story is lost, while we gain a terrible movie that refuses to stand out at what could have been a classic.

phoenix31 on Aug 27, 2011


My honest review guys: "Conan the Bell End"

Don on Sep 9, 2011


Oh sorry one more thing...why did they ever bother??

Don on Sep 9, 2011

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