When news began to filter about the potential a reboot of the Conan the Barbarian franchise, I will have to admit to being one of the pessimistic head scratchers. The original Conan the Barbarian films were cult classics at best and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger who would be far too old to embody the title character in any updated version. And although I will concede that thanks to the success of television shows like Spartacus: Blood and Sand that bare-chested men with sword epics are marketable, I was still unsure as to the motive behind the reboot.
I slowly began to come around when I learned that Jason Momoa would be 2011’s Conan. I had watched Jason in HBO’s Game of Thrones and marveled over how his character of Khal Drogo commanded a presence on screen. Momoa definitely had the physique to pull off the Conan character. He was less muscular than Arnie was back in the height of his steroid days, but Momoa was tall and menacing looking enough that I could easily imagine him as the Marvel Comic Book hero.
Writers Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood were smart to make the 2011 Conan an origin story. The Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer films of the early 1980’s were tossed aside to start anew.
And by ‘anew’ I refer to the opening of Conan the Barbarian that still has our hero in his mother’s womb. His mother is killed by tyrants and his father (played by Ron Perlman) is able to cut Conan out of the womb thus giving us the bloody and necessary setting to the story.
We flash forward over a decade and we get introduced to a young Conan (played brilliantly by Leo Howard) who while in a competition with his fellow youths encounters a small band of hostile beings (they reminded me of the Orcs from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) intent to do them harm. But while the others run back to the village, Conan fights back and when he arrives back to his father’s presence, he has the heads of three of the men who attacked them. Later, their village is attacked again and this time, Conan is forced to watch as his father is tortured and killed.
This is where the ‘barbarian’ in Conan can be seen for the first time and one or two fade-to-black screens later, Conan is presented as Jason Momoa. Conan is on a mission. He is on a quest to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, most notably of Avatar). Conan’s adventures will also coincide with Zym and his daughter Marique’s (a scary Rose McGowan) goal of finding the missing pieces of a mask and a ‘pure blood’ female that they will use together in a ceremony to resurrect Zym’s deceased wife.
As you can expect in any Conan adventure, there will be plenty of sword play, lots of violence, some scantily clad women and maybe a monster or two to keep audiences invested in the journey that will ultimately (Non-Spoiler alert) have our hero victorious.
About 30 minutes into Conan the Barbarian I came to the enlightened realization that I was really enjoying what was entertaining my eyes. I was involved and engrossed in Conan’s odyssey and I appreciated the works from director Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13th, Pathfinder) without ever once comparing it or reminiscing about the original 1980’s works.
Momoa could not have been better cast as our barbarian. He is big, threatening and has a playful Dwayne Johnson side to him that brings more fun to the character than did Arnold 25 years ago. The action sequences were well choreographed – even if at times they felt like they went on about 2 minutes longer than they should have – and one particular scene where Conan is fighting creatures that appear out of the sand was excitingly intense and inventive.
The supporting cast was keen as well including Rachel Nicols and Nonso Anozie. All supporting cast were purposefully driven and given only enough screen time to advance the story without taking the emphasis of our brooding shirtless sword wielder.
I honestly didn’t expect to appreciate Conan the Barbarian as much as I did. In fact, I’ll go one step further and admit that a less than 30% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com had me stepping back and awaiting the DVD copy before my first screening. But I am glad to report that I judged a book by its cover and I can easily recommend Conan as being a film worthy of attention – or maybe even a sequel.