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Review: ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is Goofy, Bloody, Forgettable Fun

By  · Published on August 20th, 2011

Review: ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is Goofy, Bloody, Forgettable Fun

My dad took my sister and me to a Sunday afternoon double feature once as a reward for being awesome kids. Presumably. I don’t recall how we convinced him to take us, but the bigger question here is do theaters even do double features anymore? Two movies for the price of one? Am I just that old? First up was Steven Spielberg’s E.T: The Extraterrestrial, and as expected all three of us loved it. The theater was packed, and as the end credits rolled it was clear that everyone would be staying for the second film as well.

That second movie, inexplicably, was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian.

The first hint that this might not be a good idea struck my dad around the thirty minute mark when Conan enters the dwelling of a loose woman… and his fears were confirmed three minutes later when Arnold starts thrusting his bare-ass between the naked witch’s legs. Reluctantly, my dad stood, gave the witch’s sweaty flesh one last glance, and then led us on a long walk of shame up the aisle to the exit.

I tell you that so I can tell you this… my dad would not have felt it necessary to do the same thing during the brand new incarnation of Robert E. Howard’s classic tale. It’s far more cartoonish than offensive. And that’s not even the most surprising thing about the new movie…

Marcus Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian is also a fairly entertaining and enjoyable romp filled with geysers of blood, handfuls of boobs, and one multi-headed beast.

“Woman! Come here.”

Cimmeria is a harsh and savage land ruled by brawn and steel, and young Conan (Leo Howard) is aching to sink his teeth into Mother Earth’s teat. He was born on the battlefield years prior when his mother’s womb was penetrated by the enemy’s sword, and he’s yearned to repay the favor ever since. The chance comes when his village is wiped out by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his army of mercenaries, but as a child the odds are stacked against him. Cut to years later and the now Jason Momoa-sized Conan is a world traveler prone to freeing slaves, bedding silicone-filled beauties, and hanging with a black man named Ukafa (Bob Sapp) for additional street cred. His latest journey brings him back in contact with Zym, his daughter Marique (Rose McGowan), and the revenge he’s been seeking his whole life.

Not that it should be expected from a Nispel film, but there is nary a trace of subtlety to be found here. The movie is loud, brash, and constantly in your face. John Milius’s original was a different beast all together and while comparing the two is pointless a single scene easily sums up the difference. Milius allowed for the occasional scene of beauty like the murder of Conan’s mother which occurs just out of frame and is captured solely on the boy’s face… Nispel puts viewers in her womb just in time to see the sword suddenly stab through her gut in 3D.

And that 3D is a constant here as just about everything light enough to fly through the air gets tossed towards the camera. It’s not a particularly terrible effect, but it’s nowhere near good either. It just never stops. The visuals in general are a mix of effective action scenes, solidly choreographed fights, and CGI. It ain’t necessarily pretty but it’ll sure keep your eyes busy. Same goes for the multiple topless wenches actually.

If the fights, skin, and overall bombastic nature of it all are reasons to see the movie there are plenty of reasons not to as well. For one, and this is clearly the most predictable, the movie is dumber than dirt. The dialogue will have you laughing, and the logic gaps will have you shrugging. Of course the master thief uses keys to open doors. Of course Morgan ‘God’ Freeman is the narrator of a whole eight lines of dialogue. Of course Lang learned how to overplay a villain by watching his own performance in Avatar.

Speaking of performances, the best one here is by young Howard. The kid is small in size but big in brooding, determined presence. He easily outshines Momoa, who to be fair is no worse here than Schwarzenegger was in the original. He manages a few humorous lines and feels believable wielding his mighty sword, but the idea of calling him an ‘actor’ doesn’t quite sit right. Rachel Nichols shows more skin than personality, but in a world like this that’s exactly how it should be right?

Conan the Barbarian won’t start a mini-trend of new sword and sorcery flicks, and it most certainly won’t help launch Momoa’s film career, but it will satisfy fans of bloody, sweaty, testosterone-fueled action movies for much of its 114 minute running time. It’s a big, goofy, violent mess that entertains in spite of itself. No one should be all that surprised by the movie, and you most likely already know if it’s for you… but if not just ask yourself this one question.

Do you want to see a movie that features a thirsty anus-like aperture get pressed to Stephen Lang’s face? You know who you are. Enjoy the movie.

The Upside: Sword fights are well choreographed and the combat feels like it has real physical impact; some solid action set pieces; some light comedic touches; best nose picking scene ever put on screen; Leo Howard is a fantastic bundle of energy and attitude

The Downside: Heroes have a distinct lack of personality and villains have an overload; ending goes on a bit too long and isn’t as satisfying as it could have been; laughable dialogue; film could probably cut 10–15 minutes

On the Side: I finally got the chance to watch the original Conan the Barbarian again years after that aborted double feature, and I was happy to see that Conan eventually gets to love a lady without having to toss her into the fire afterward.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.