×

Conan the Barbarian

Conan has mellowed, if ever so slightly, since the days when a certain Austrian bodybuilder portrayed the pulp fantasy hero.

With:
Conan - Jason Momoa
Tamara - Rachel Nichols
Khalar Zym - Stephen Lang
Marique - Rose McGowan
Ela-Shan - Said Taghmaoui
Corin - Ron Perlman
Young Conan - Leo Howard

Conan has mellowed, if ever so slightly, since the days when a certain Austrian bodybuilder portrayed the pulp fantasy hero. That doesn’t mean his latest bloodbath, also titled “Conan the Barbarian,” is any tamer; merely that the protagonist in this Marcus Nispel-directed reboot shows a modicum of respect toward the men he slays and topless wenches he liberates. More importantly, the well-executed pic solves the biggest challenge facing those hoping to breathe new life — however nasty, brutish and short — into the 79-year-old franchise by finding an actor capable of filling Ah-nuld’s shoes, all of which portends brawny international biz, with sequels to follow.

Conan rights holder Millennium Films took a considerable gamble in casting little-known Hawaiian actor-model Jason Momoa, who nevertheless as a burly, long-haired horse of a man with biceps the size of battering rams and a big scar running down his left cheek seems made for the part. The bet paid off, as Momoa’s star rose earlier this summer, thanks to his role as Khal Drogo on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” That break, combined with a slightly more femme-friendly depiction of Conan — including a gratuitous glimpse of the barbarian’s backside — suggests the producers have figured a way to inject pulp-romance appeal into Robert E. Howard’s classic hero.

The other big wild card in this equation was musicvideo director Marcus Nispel, who has carved out a curious niche for himself rebooting B-movie franchises. After bringing a measure of visual style to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th,” the helmer once again exceeds expectations, however modest they may have been to begin with.

Audiences headed to a Conan movie already know what they’re going to get, so it doesn’t make sense to chide those responsible for crafting a work of unrelenting barbarism. There’s blood and bare breasts aplenty, from Conan’s birth on the battlefield — where his father (Ron Perlman) can be seen slitting the man-child from his dying mother’s womb in an outrageous opening scene — to his climactic showdown with Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang). In short, like last summer’s “The Expendables” (also produced by Avi Lerner), the film delivers hard-R escapism for 13-year-old intellects, aimed to satisfy those looking to rest their brains but not their ears.

Attempting to separate themselves somewhat from the earlier, Schwarzenegger-starring pics, Nispel and his cohorts announced a respectful back-to-the-books approach, but it’s really more of the same. Like the 1982 John Milius-directed film, “Conan the Barbarian” shows the young Cimmerian (played by Leo Howard) witnessing the death of his parents, hunting down the man responsible for their murder and demonstrating himself worthy of the sword he will wield in later adventures.

Joining the monosyllabic hero — whose mantra amounts to a grunted, “I live, I love, I slay and I am content” — are such stock characters as a campy sorceress (Rose McGowan), a thieving sidekick (Said Taghmaoui) and a pure-blooded maiden (Rachel Nichols). Screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood mercifully spare us most of the arcane mythology with which Howard larded his original tales, putting what little setup auds need into the mouth of narrator Morgan Freeman, whose presence offers the first clue that the project aspires to some sort of respectability.

With all earnestness, Nispel embraces the property’s classic roots, placing this new “Conan” squarely within the tradition of sword-and-sorcery pics. Visually, the world hews close to the dark, iconic look established by fantasy painter Frank Frazetta, which will no doubt please devotees, but offers as little room for surprise as the film’s recycled storyline.

Although the battle scenes are updated with the kind of on-camera carnage that 21st-century digital enhancement allows, many of the effects — ranging from CG cities to a multi-tentacled sea creature — are just a notch above the high-def TV standard seen on “Game of Thrones.” There is, however, one notable exception: An exhilarating mid-movie action scene produced by Tom Horton and Reliance MediaWorks conjures a bunch of impressive, shape-shifting sand warriors, who materialize out of thin air to antagonize the wild-eyed Conan.

For the most part, nimble editing makes it possible to make sense of complex action sequences, but often comes at the expense of the film’s unnecessary 3D. Overall, the extra dimension doesn’t add much, apart from one or two flinch-inducing moments when a weapon goes flying out into the audience. With his bulging physique, Momoa is more 3D-friendly than most stars, but the technique does little to enhance it, serving instead to emphasize the separation between the otherwise flat foreground and background planes.

In addition to its epic-scale indoor stages, Bulgaria supplies terrain varied enough to suggest the many kingdoms of Hyboria, but isn’t likely to inspire many vacations.

Popular on Variety

Conan the Barbarian

Production: A Lionsgate release presented with Millennium Films of a Millennium Films/Conan Properties Intl. production in association with Emmett Furla Films Prods. Produced by Fredrick Malmberg, Boaz Davidson, Joe Gatta, Danny Lerner, John Baldecchi, Les Weldon, Henry Winterstern. Executive producers, Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida, Fredrick Fierst, George Furla, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Eda Kowan, John Sacchi, Michael Paseornek, Jason Constantine. Co-executive producer, Lonne Ramati. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay, Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood, based on the character of Conan as originally created by Robert E. Howard.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, 3D), Thomas Kloss; editor, Ken Blackwell; music, Tyler Bates; production designer, Chris August; art director, Antonello Rubino; set decorators, Judy Farr, Valya Mladenova; costume designer, Wendy Partridge; sound (DTS/Dolby/SDDS), Vladimir Kaloyanov; supervising sound editor, Trevor Jolly; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Marchall Garlington; special effects supervisor, Alex Gunn; visual effects supervisors, Holly Gosnell, Felix Pomeranz; visual effects, Worldwide FX; makeup and special makeup effects supervisors, Shaun Smith, Scott Wheeler; stunt coordinators, David Leitch, Noon Orsatti; fight coordinator, Jonathan Eusebio; stereoscopic supervisor, Evan Jacobs; assistant directors, Mark Roper, Petya Evtimova; second unit director, David Leitch; second unit camera, Ross Clarkson; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live, Los Angeles, Aug. 11, 2011. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 113 MIN.
Secondary Cast: With: Steve O'Donnell, Raad Rawi, Nonso Anozie, Bob Sapp, Milton Welsh. Narrator: Morgan Freeman.

With: Conan - Jason Momoa
Tamara - Rachel Nichols
Khalar Zym - Stephen Lang
Marique - Rose McGowan
Ela-Shan - Said Taghmaoui
Corin - Ron Perlman
Young Conan - Leo Howard

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content