A brave warrior, born of battle, seeks to avenge his father via more battle in Conan the Barbarian, a movie that also has, in addition to battles, boobs.
We actually first meet baby Conan, still in utero, when his mother is stabbed during battle. She may be dying but she’s badass enough to ask her husband Corin (Ron Pearlman) to cut the baby out. She has a moment with Corin, she names Conan, then she dies.
Beat that birth day story, TLC’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.
As a scrappy young barbarian lad, Young Conan (Leo Howard) is a comically fierce warrior who is determined to prove himself to his father. But then one day, soldiers working for the warlord Khalar Zym (Steven Lange) ride into town and start with the burning and the killing. They aren’t just pillaging willy-nilly, though; these men are looking for something and they think Corin knows where it is. The hidden thing is a piece of bone that is part of a mask that can convey enormous power to the wearer. Khalar is searching for all the pieces of the mask to put it back together and mix up some magical firepower that will make him the ruler of all the land. He eventually gets the piece but not until after Conan shows up to wave around a sword, hacking flesh and parts off some of Khalar’s men. Khalar leaves Corin and Conan for dead but, like all good barbarian dads, Corin sacrifices himself to save Conan and to give him something to avenge.
Conan (Jason Momoa) travels the world, getting older, buffer and even more battle-loving, generally doing good but always in search of the man who killed his father. When one day he comes across one of Khalar’s men, he gets involved in a quest to stop Khalar and his evil-magic daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) from conquering the world with their dark sorcery. Along the way, he kidnaps/befriends/romances Tamara (Rachel Nichols), a comely monk who may have a secret past that connects her to Khalar’s power-gaining ritual.
A bit of exposition about the mask and the evil leaders of somesuch empire precedes the movie and throughout we get explanation of this world that seems cobbled together from names and mythology fished out of the discount bin at the Tolkien and Game of Thrones knock-off store. None of it is original or nifty enough to care about or remember. Good guys, evil guys, they fight — that’s as complex as it ever really gets here.
And, as previously mentioned, boobs. The boobs and the way the movie sort of casually sprinkles them into scenes of festivities and a fairly ho-hum (and brief) sex scene feels, well, quaint. Like the way they did things in the late 1970s and early 1980s (the era of the last Conan movie). In fact, everything about the movie feels like it’s from the shabbier part of that era. It is TV-ready — specifically, late-night public-domain TV ready. It feels like the filmmakers stumbled upon sets from a made-for-video Dungeons & Dragons-ish movie, spent a few hours sketching out some dialogue and then filmed this. The movie is so lackadasical that it doesn’t have quite enough going for it to be worth the so-bad-it’s-good watch-to-mock treatment that it would seem to warrant.
I won’t bother further listing the flaws the story or the dialogue — that’s not why anyone would ever watch this. (And a good chunk of the dialogue is some kind of grunting — I wonder, do the actors do a lot of line-readings of the grunts? Do they discuss the emotions behind a grunt?) But the battles, which are the reason one might watch, aren’t so hot either. Extreme close-ups and then quick cuts make up a lot of the action sequences — a nice way to obscure what’s going on and perhaps to hide some of the lameness of the fighting and the special effects. But this movie doesn’t ever really make up for it with a few well choreographed moments of sword-fighting or flesh slicing. And, while sparkling witticisms might not be key to a movie like this, you still need to write in some interesting characters. Go to any 8-year-old and ask about three of their action figures and you’ll get more complex personalities and more layered backstories than the characters have here. And, no, the furniture-commercial-level acting does not help, even when the line delivered is just a guttural “uggggh.”
Conan the Barbarian could have been a smarter bit of B-movie entertainment if it had just embraced its cheesiness and approached its goofy story with more gusto. C-
Rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity. Directed by Marcus Nispel and written by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood (from a character by Robert E. Howard), Conan the Barbarian is an hour and 52 minutes long and distributed by Liongsgate.