Conan the Barbarian (2011)

There’s a lot to like, even admire about director Marcus Nispel’s remake of Conan the Barbarian, but it makes its biggest mistake early on when it attempts to introduce us to the title character as a 13-year-old kid. It’s not the boy that’s the problem or even the scenes they’ve written for him to be in. Those are well-crafted bits of bloody character development, anchored by another one of those underrated performances we’re used to getting from Ron Perlman, as Conan’s father. We learn everything about the man Conan’s going to grow up to be from those scenes, except that when the movie suddenly flashes forward to the adult version of the character played by heaviliy-muscled Jason Momoa, he seems like a completely different person.

Sure pint-sized Conan and big Conan have the same fearsome fighting ability, but any resemblance to the kid begins and ends there. Because we instantly flash forward to Conan as a fully formed person, there’s really no connective tissue between the two versions we see of the character. The movie attempts to solve this with some randomly inserted Morgan Freeman narration, but rather than connecting those two dissected parts of the movie together it simply introduces another element, as if the narration was from some other, third version of the Conan character.

It’s a problem Conan the Barbarian suffers from throughout its running time. Much of the movie feels disjointed, like the kind of film where things just happen and you’re left to sort through the rubble and figure out what’s been going on. Luckily, even when it’s not exactly smoothly constructed, what’s going on has balls.

They don’t make movies like this one anymore. Conan the Barbarian is nearly as gritty, bloody, and barbaric as the original film. That’s a feat I’d have sworn could simply not have been done in today’s modern environment of political correctness. Sure, it doesn’t go quite as far as the Schwarzenegger film, and a lot of that CGI blood looks pretty fake, but it goes far enough in the world of hard R brutality and boobies to earn the word “Barbarian” in its title. Normally I’m not a big stickler for that sort of thing, but this is a Conan movie. Barbarism must come with the territory, or what’s the point in making it?

Jason Momoa is pretty good too. He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger and I sort of miss the version of the character who almost never talks, but Momoa pulls off the barbaric grunts and looks good while swinging around a sword. He’s vicious and brutal, and so is Marcus Nispel’s film.

What’s more, Conan has a few good ideas. New ideas. This isn’t just a total rehash of the movie you saw in the 80s, the script they’ve used has a fresh spin with a few specifically clever additions which really do make this attempt to resurrect the franchise completely worthwhile. Some of it’s silly and results in buildings crumbling for no reason other than to heighten tension, but a lot of it’s good. If only they ‘d found a better way to connect it all together.

Even disjointed and somewhat disheveled, Conan the Barbarian is gritty enough and brutal enough that it’s absolutely worth a look. Marcus Nispel knows how to shoot this kind of vicious battle story, and if only someone would’ve found a way to close up the cracks in its narrative, then maybe they’d have had something special.

For an in-depth analysis of Conan the Barbarian's 3D version read To 3D Or Not To 3D.

Josh Tyler