Movies / Comics Movie Reviews

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

By Andy Frisk
August 19, 2011 - 00:34

What made 1982’s Conan the Barbarian film great was John Milius and Oliver Stone’s story. What made it bad was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s horrible, monosyllabic acting. What makes 2011’s Conan The Barbarian pretty good is Jason Momoa’s athletic and likable portrayal of the titular hero. What makes it bad is Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood’s horrible, monosyllabic story. I guess that, unlike Conan, the Barbarian, King of Thieves, and future King of Aquilonia, we can’t have it all. What we can have though is a solid, kickass, and fun version of the Hyborian Age’s most talented warrior, and make no mistake, Momoa’s Conan is a warrior through and through. Where Schwarzenegger was a muscle bound, hack and slash intimidator of a barbarian, Momoa is a graceful, yet powerful and masterful, swordsman. Actually, he’s more than just a swordsman. He’s quite the bare fisted, unarmed, hand to hand master brawler as well. In short, Momoa is an awesome presence as Conan through and through, it’s just a shame he didn’t have more of a story and script to work with.


Milius and Stone wove a story that, in true Oliver Stone(d) tradition, actually generated some interesting social and political commentary surrounding the ideological clash between Thulsa Doom’s “flower child” cult that pretended to be a spiritual peace and love commune, but was in reality just a tool of distraction and means to power for Doom and Conan’s “Riddle of Steel” and will to power existentialism. Yes, that subtext is really there and I’m not just waxing literary (like I’m admittedly, and often times, prone to do). As Thulsa Doom demonstrated by calling one of his “children” to him, and to her death, from the top of the walls of his compound’s courtyard with his voice, the hypnotic power of his mystical cult status was, in his definition, true power. His squaring off against Conan’s Cimmerian steel at the end was made even more poignant since Conan had the will to resist Doom’s voice and placed his faith in his own hand, and what it held, as opposed to Doom’s slitheringly tempting words. Alas, there’s nothing near the poignancy and intelligence of Milius and Stone’s subtext in Donnelly, Oppenheimer, and Hood’s story. What there is though is non-stop, blood fueled, and beautifully choreographed action.

"I live. I love. I slay. And I'm content." Now that's a barbarian for ya!

Conan the Barbarian (2011) is beautifully filmed and makes the most of Jason Momoa’s athleticism. This Conan doesn’t simply hack and slash his way through his opponents (some of which are some pretty intelligently rendered CGI magical warriors), he jumps, swings, parries, cuts, and hacks and slashes his enemies to ribbons, all in a more realistic kilt-like warrior outfit as opposed to Schwarzenegger’s animal skin loincloth. Momoa’s enemies are visually intimidating and truly look like the denizens of a barbarically hellish and time-lost age. Director Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th, Pathfinder) knows how to choreograph, and capture on film, some great fight scenes involving warriors numbering from two to two hundred. He also has a keen eye for set design and manages to capture the unique look of Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, a fictional age that resembles a mixture of medieval fantasy, stark stone age barbarism, and exotic near east mysticism. 

A warrior' reals...

Momoa also brings a certain roughish charisma to the character of Conan that Schwarzenegger really didn’t embody. Schwarzenegger’s Conan was more Schwarzenegger's than Howard’s Conan. Momoa, besides being much more intelligible than Schwarzenegger was, is much more athletic and limber. Granted, Momoa doesn’t boast Schwarzenegger’s once ungodly physique, but he presents a more realistic looking Conan as a tradeoff. His acting chops are better too. As for the rest of the cast though, they range from solid (Ron Pearlman as Corin, Conan’s father) to horrific (Rose McGowan as Marique, villain Khalar Zym’s sorceress/daughter). As far as the main villain goes, Stephen Lang’s Khalar Zym doesn’t hold a candle to James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom in any category, acting or otherwise, although Lang doesn’t have much, if anything really, to work with.

Leo Howard delivers a great performance as Young Conan.

Overall, in the non stop action department, Conan the Barbarian (2011) delivers in spades. In the story department though, much is left to be desired. Maybe when the inevitable sequel gets made we’ll get some story to go with the admittedly great action and visuals.

Rose McGowan...what an ugly, uh...acting job.

Conan the Barbarian gets a well deserved and barbarically R rating for graphic violence, nudity, and sexual content (not involving Rose McGowan-Thank God). What else would you expect from a movie about a guy whose motto is “Live, Love, Slay?!  

Rating: 6 /10

Last Updated: January 24, 2022 - 11:00

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