Film Review: Conan the Barbarian

John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian from 1982 is not a perfect film. It is, however, a lot better than this 2011 mess directed by Marcus Nispel.

Conan is born into war; his mother gives birth on the battlefield. Raised by his father, Conan is a courageous fighter even at a young age. When his father is murdered, Conan vows to get revenge on his killers, travelling across land and sea to find the perpetrators…

Where does it all go wrong? At the very beginning, unfortunately for viewers. The overriding problem with the film is a severely lacking screenplay. Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood should be applauded for making significant changes from the 1982 rather than producing a straightforward remake. Nonetheless, they should also be lambasted for what they have produced in its place.

There is no real innovation anywhere in the film. The characters are dull archetypes and the dialogue is sometimes awful. Worse still is the unoriginal plotting. The film goes from point to point to point without providing viewers with anything remotely inspired. The central theme of revenge is timeless, but the writers should have found a more interesting way to tell this story.

As with many other sword and sorcery tales, Conan the Barbarian is more concerned with black and white rather than shades of grey. Considering this, the villain should be a powerful and dominant force, capable of being a real match for the hero. Instead, Khylar Zym is a feeble antagonist; a dull character that lacks the sense of menace that he should. With the film’s other issues, the villain really needed to be stronger and have a bit more depth.

The pacing is Nispel’s film is also lacking. The film is made up of action sequences and expository downtime, but some of the latter really exhibit a lull in pace. The prolonged finale also suffers from this same fate. It goes on for too long; when Conan finally faces his nemesis it is very much an anticlimax. Rather than the epic good vs. evil confrontation it should be, the fight sizzles instead of going out with a bang.

Jason Momoa is a suitable Conan, physically fitting the role. There is little else to the character, but Momoa is adequate. Stephen Lang is one-dimensional as Khylar Zym, bringing little spark to the character. Rachel Nichols is lifeless is damsel-in-distress Tamara, but part of the blame is due again to a lack of characterisation. Rose McGowan adds a little sparkle as Marique, although the role is restricted.

Conan the Barbarian is a disappointing film that would be best viewed in 2D if it must be viewed at all. Sword and sorcery fans would be better served revisiting the original film.