Thursday, August 18, 2011


A brief review by Dennis McHaney

For the first time in the film history of Conan, an actor has come along who actually studied Robert E. Howard’s Conan for  guidance, and that comes across in one of the most exuberant portrayals of a fictional character that we have seen in quite some time.  Jason Momoa has nailed Conan, with a performance that is energetic, enthusiastic, and inspired.  

No, the story is not taken directly from the pages of Robert E. Howard, though there are subtle spoken and visual references to Conan’s literary history.
After watching this film, it is apparent that the producers set out with at least three goals:

1. Reintroduce the character to a new generation of film goers.
2. Get it right this time!
3.  Make an exciting and entertaining action film that would make the audiences crave more!

They have succeeded splendidly on all points, and then some.  The most important thing about this film is that they chose the right man to get the job done.  Momoa is a demanding, charismatic presence, and you would almost believe he was born to play Conan.  His physical performance in the movie is flawless.  His sword work is precise and deadly, his speed and co-ordination are not lumbering and slow like his predecessors,  and for the first time in the history of the character, Conan is portrayed by someone that can actually act!

The plot is minimalistic, but sufficient for a film that was designed to tell a non-stop action packed adventure.  In fact, the film moves along at such an accelerated pace that many people in the audience couldn’t believe 102 minutes had gone by when the credits started to roll.

In addition to Momoa, the rest the cast all deliver the goods.  Ron Perlman is always a joy to watch.  Rose McGowen still made me want to drool in spite of the hideous makeup.  Rachel Nichols, as Conan’s love interest, is a natural beauty who can also fight like a Cimmerian wildcat.  Stephen Lang  again proves that he is one of the best bad guys in Hollywood.

The film opens up with a voice over by Morgan Freeman.  It never hurts to start a film with such a class act.

I’m not going to reveal any details of the story, or the very rare and minor budget limitations that aren’t really that apparent (or important).  The film succeeds to entertain if the viewer wants to be entertained.  If you go to the movie wanting to dislike it, why are you wasting your time?

I’d have to give Conan the Barbarian both my thumbs up.

There are bound to be comparisons to other Howard based films, and that is sad.  The original Conan movie, of which this is not a remake, was so far off base on every level that it was laughable.  It has even been parodied (Master Pancake Theater’s Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Musical) and with good reason.  John Milius had some sort of ridiculous vision of what Conan should be, and he tried to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.  Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan is a lumbering dumb ass, whose swordplay is slow and posing.  While he’s showing off, swinging that big ole eighty pound sword around in circles, any real swordsman could kill him five times.  And the acting?  What acting?  The follow-ups to the 1982 film, Conan the Destroyer and the almost Conan, Red Sonja, are in a class of pure garbage all by themselves.  The 1982 film inspired dozens of imitations.  Many of those were light years better than Destroyer or Sonja.
The film is also, for silly reasons, being compared to Solomon Kane.  Why?  Director Bassett stated that he wanted to introduce the character in his own way, then if the public bought it, he’d toss in some actual Robert E. Howard the next time around.  The producers of the new Conan made basically the same statement, but what they did that Michael Bassett apparently couldn’t do was to give us a decent film.  Solomon Kane plods along, like a bus making too many stops to get to a destination, and every single little detail must be explained in excruciating detail.  No wonder no distributor in the United States was interested in the film.  It is a bore.  Cut 30 minutes out of its overlong running time, and it might have sold over here.  James Purefoy comes across well as Solomon Kane, he just wasn’t given great material to work with.

Those who are actually silly enough to worry about the new Conan picture probably shouldn’t go to it.  Expect a fun two hour romp, and you’ll love this picture.  The action is fast, the women are beautiful, and the violence and gore are top notch.  If you love blood and guts film, you’ll love Conan the Barbarian 3D.  It is pure ear and eye candy for the demented, and a joy ride to everyone else.  

I saw this film at a special advance screening at The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.  Jason Momoa was in attendance.  I will cover that event in a separate post.


  1. I do like cinematic homicide with a sword.

  2. In an earlier comment regarding Jason's take on Conan he points to the famous Frazetta cover and says he wanted to be that guy. A person, not even an actor can animate a 2-D image and all we need is another near naked guy acting like the popular impression of the wrong "Conan".
    Based on your glowing but ironically lacking details I'd say the film was made just for people like you, fans of the popular interpretation of what's become the Conan brand character. I notice there's no mention of how this reflects on the writer and creator of the actual character, but then, I didn't expect one. What, more out of context quotes from Howard, or the cities all have the right names?
    The fact that Jason himself was there surely didn't influence your praise, right? Maybe not but I'm a little leery of anyone who might pretend that stuff doesn't matter. Jason was there to influence opinions and it's a good marketing ploy.
    A funny thing, while you heartily dismiss the first dismal Conan films I remember similar praise for the first one and still see them. The silliness that ensued in the second was comedic refreshment but both films were always dreadful, a huge waste of stellar art direction and better than average cinematography. That you're currently praising this one is too similar to what I've heard before. Praise like yours was also attached to the Solomon Kane film. I haven't been tempted to watch it either and agreeing with your take on it doesn't make this film any easier to swallow.
    Understand that given the history of this character and the truly awful looking trailer, (and the crappy revenge story) well, enjoy, but passing on this one is a breeze too. After all, it's just another action movie.

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  3. Dennis,
    Good review and some interesting insights. Re: the few already disparaging "reviews" by those such as the previous commentor who don't even plan to see a film and have already passed judgement on both your review and you as a reviewer, well -- in the circles of literary and film criticism it is usually customary to judge AFTER seeing the film, and also to disagree with other critics post-viewing as well.

    I will be seeing the film with an open mind. I'm not exactly the "purest" of Howardian Purists, but I do look forward to a day when actual Howard stories are done in film (Conan, Kane, Bran, El Borak, etc.--hopefully). But as far as this film goes, if it simply introduces the character of Conan and Howard as author to a new generation or new batch of fans in general--I believe it will have succeeded. For those who think that "just another action movie" is a thing to be "breezily" passed over -- Well, their taste in film OR literature is not likely in the right genre. And those who compare praise (or disparagement) of one critic to praise (or disparagement) of another simply because positive or negative language is used are, well, ignoring the fact that brand new words of praise or disparagement are not often coined.

    If any aspect of a film (plot, acting, cinematography, direction, etc.) is described as "energetic," "enthusiastic," "exuberant," "inspired," "charismatic," etc. -- well, these are merely part of the praise lexicon. Let the uninitiated, the yet-to-see, the unexposed-to (pun intended) actually VIEW/EXPERIENCE the film prior to critical comment. To not do so is to do something worse than what the blind men do with the elephant — they at least come in contact with the critter before calling it anything.

    1. Well, if the world wasn't just chock full of opinionated fools, there would probably be very few blogs. Yes, "you are wrong and the movie probably sucks but I'll never see it anyway." Who cares? If I had to deal with very many comments that worthless, I'd probably just disable comments.

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