From the start the film-makers were looking to retell the Conan mythology in a way that incorporated the story and hero’s evolution since Robert E. Howard first introduced us to him in 1932 and the result is a surprisingly enjoyable romp through a beautifully realized Hyboria! Now if you don’t have a sense of humour or the stomach for outrageous violence then this isn’t the summer flick for you. However, if like me, you grew up on semi-mythological staples such as Xena Warrior Princess and you continue to revel in the heroics, the adventure and the slight (essential) campness of it all then you’re definitely going to enjoy Conan the Barbarian in all its immense half-naked, 3D, sword-swinging action!
After a little historical exposition, from the get go the movie makes a blood-thirsty first impression as we are thrust immediately onto the battlefield where Conan is ripped from his dying warrior mother’s womb by his father Corin. The subsequent flash forward from barbarian conflict into Conan’s childhood amongst his Cimmerian tribesmen provides a brief but vital context for the warrior’s character as Nispel is quick to establish Conan as much more than a mindless, ferocious barbarian. Ron Perlman who, despite a lamentably small amount of screen time, offers an earnest and subtly melancholic performance as the tribe’s leader and Conan’s surviving parent as he teaches his son the importance of skill over savage enthusiasm and provides a testament to Conan’s gentler side. Jason Momoa was cast off the back of his role as Khal Drogo in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones and proves himself as a very worthy Conan and highly watchable action hero. He is a charismatic protagonist with a commanding screen presence and lets face it, he’s not half bad to look at.
The plot is simple enough; an unspeakably evil man with an equally wicked plan writes off a young boy’s home village as collateral damage in his quest for power leaving the boy orphaned and vengeful. The boy grows into a man as well as an obscenely muscular and incredibly skilled warrior before fate and chance collide in order for the hero to stop the bad guy, save the girl and the known world from certain doom. However through a combination of intricately choreographed and stimulatingly located fight sequences, eye-catching scenery and well-manipulated CGI this same old story is jazzed up a considerable amount. Stephen Lang plays the big bad Khalar Zym with gusto but his villainous efforts are somewhat outshined by his witch daughter Marique. Then again, it’s difficult not to be upstaged by a scantily clad and exquisitely malevolent Rose McGowan with daddy issues and a taste for the blood of beautiful virgins. Between her sultry witchcraft, sand zombies and huge monsters there’s definitely a little something for everyone to enjoy.
On the whole, the movie is a lot of fun and I’d go as far as to say it’s a must see. It has tried very hard to meet the challenge of updating an epic pop culture icon without losing any of that raw, wild adventure that is synonymous with Conan’s world. Sadly I was left very unconvinced by leading lady Rachel Nichols and not through any real fault of her own. Her character Tamara is a poorly realized independent woman who never really gets the chance to satisfy her potential. Despite handling herself impressively well in various perilous situations Tamara suddenly cancels this progress out with an unfathomably clumsy fighting technique or an unnecessary scream for Conan to rescue her. Regardless of this Nichols is a beautiful woman and she has a fantastic set of lungs on her, not quite Fay Wray but not bad either.
An unfulfilled heroine and a somewhat anticlimactic ending aside, Conan is still a sexy, colossal and violently entertaining rampage through Robert E. Howard’s original mythology. The Cimmerian himself is a refreshingly modern and relatable hero endowed with passion, a roguish sense of justice and the courage of his own convictions. Visually the movie strikes a fairly original and diverse chord and although I only saw the 2D version I can safely imagine that 3D adds a substantial kick to the experience. If you’re a fan of good old-fashioned action entertainment then I recommend ending your summer on a high and seeing Conan the Barbarian. Kick off your flip -flops and enjoy some toe-curlingly graphic sword and sorcery with plenty of oomph.