Conan The Barbarian (2011) Movie Review

The remake bandwagon rumbles on with “Conan the Barbarian”, dusting off John Milius’ 1982 Schwarzenegger vehicle based on the violent fantasy tales of Robert E. Howard. The film was directed by Marcus Nispel, a man with plenty of remake experience, having already helmed the relatively popular new versions of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Friday the 13th”. His horror leanings certainly made Nispel a pretty good choice, already having proved himself capable at delivering the kind of visceral thrills and gore needed to make the film the kind of bloody and visceral sword-fest demanded by fans. Stepping into the considerably large fur boots of the one and only Arnold and hearing the lamentations of his enemies’ women is Jason Momoa, a relative newcomer to the big screen who previously appeared in television series “Game of Thrones” and “Stargate: Atlantis”.

The remake keeps the same basic plot as the original, with young Conan witnessing the slaughter of his village (including a neat role for Ron Perlman as his chieftain father) at the hands of the evil overlord Zym (“Avatar” villain Stephen Lang), who is scouring the land for the final pieces of a demonic mask which will apparently give him the power of a god. The lad survives, and grows into the wandering barbarian warrior of the title, who roams Hyboria with revenge on his mind. He gets his chance when he rescues Tamara (Rachel Nichols, “P2”), an attractive monk with the pure blood needed by Zym and his psycho daughter Marique (Rose McGowan) to complete the mask’s final ritual.

Although the original is indeed a cult classic of sorts, “Conan the Barbarian” is a pretty interesting choice for a remake, given that the box office tends to be rather unkind to adult themed swordplay flicks. It’s certainly obvious that a lot of work went into the film, both as a faithful re-imagining of the original, and as a fitting adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s writing, with much of its imagery being pleasingly evocative of his books’ pulp covers. The film is well crafted, and sees Nispel managing to marry his usual mixture of flashiness and grit with a more epic sweep. The visuals are all the better for showing a well-judged use of CGI, mainly in the form of majestic backgrounds, landscapes, palaces and temples, vividly bringing Hyboria to life in a way which Milius wasn’t able to. This combines with the often down and dirty look of the film to give an atmospheric, yet grounded feel, and Nispel makes good use of the sprawling scenery, with Conan’s journey through forests, deserts and ruined temples making for a real sense of high fantasy and adventure. Thankfully, the 3D is almost entirely unnoticeable, and whilst it adds absolutely nothing to the film, it doesn’t have the same grating tackiness that all but sank the recent “Clash of the Titans” remake.

Unsurprisingly, one of the film’s major selling points is its violence, and Nispel really does push the boat out in terms of brutality. The film has some fantastically bloody scenes, its battles filled with dismemberments, decapitations, crushed heads and more, and is all the more effective for avoiding too much in the way of obvious CGI gore. This really helps to cement the film’s bleak and merciless world, and to ensure that it has a resoundingly adult air – as does the frequent flashes of female nudity. Nispel keeps all of this coming thick and fast, and the film is well paced and surprisingly devoid of filler material. Although at times the action focus does mean that the story itself suffers, the film is at least never dull, and knows exactly how to please its audience. Nispel doesn’t quite manage to hold things together through to the end, with Conan’s final duel with Zym falling a little flat and failing to match the savage fun of the opening act, though it still ends on a reasonably rousing note.

This is partly due to Lang making for a rather weak villain, saddled with a frankly daft plan that Nispel never really convinces the viewer will ever amount to much, and pointlessly given a vaguely sympathetic and muddled backstory. Thankfully, Momoa does a very decent job in the lead, giving Conan a nicely uncivil charisma, and whilst the roguish gleam in his eye prevents him from ever really coming across as a ferocious killing machine, he makes for a fine, hulking protagonist. Following in the footsteps of Schwarzenegger was always going to be a big task, though the actor proves himself very capable, and will likely have a decent future in the genre if he chooses the right films. Special mention must also go to Rose McGowan for her awesomely silly over the top performance, with pretty much all of her scenes making for near-hysterical entertainment.

Thanks to Nispel’s determinedly gruesome approach, this never quite pushes “Conan the Barbarian” into high camp, and though it wisely never takes itself too seriously, it never gets too ridiculous. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than it might have been, and whilst inevitably the question must be asked whether a remake was necessary, the film is a solid piece of violent fantasy, that should be enjoyed by fans and newcomers alike.

“Conan” opens this Friday. Screened at Empire Presents Big Screen.

Marcus Nispel (director) / Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, Sean Hood (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Momoa … Conan
Stephen Lang … Khalar Zym
Rachel Nichols … Tamara
Ron Perlman … Corin
Rose McGowan … Marique
Bob Sapp … Ukafa


Buy Conan The Barbarian on DVD



About James Mudge

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James is a Scottish writer based in London. He is one of BeyondHollywood.com’s oldest tenured movie reviewer, specializing in all forms of cinema from the Asian continent, as well as the angst-strewn world of independent cinema and the plasma-filled caverns of the horror genre. James can be reached at jamesmudge (at) btinternet.com, preferably with offers of free drinks.

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  • Adam Siennica

    Sorry, but why you are calling this remake? This is not remake, it is based on Robert E. Howard stories, not poor adaption with Schwarzenegger. Momoa, Nispel and others also said that it is no remake and we see it in Conan himself – his character is rather more faithfull to books than Schwarzenegger and i only judge this by the trailers. So please, stop calling this remake, because it is a mistake.

    Thanks for good review. Will see it on friday!

    • justjoe

      Well, it´s harder to imagine a producer actually reading anything by Rob E. Howard (or any other author) than owning a checklist which 80´s movies that haven´t already be recycled and remade.

    • Cjbull3

      Well said this is not a remake in that sense of trying to remake Arnold”s Conan, this is a re-imagining of the Character Conan which R.E.H. made so famous. Its an Iconic role. Its like making a new version of James Bond. Like the first Conan, we never really see or grasp where Conan really came from and why he was born in the battlefield and his origin and life as a youth. The 1982 version never went to great lengths as this one will. This is a new version of the Story of Conan and nothing to do or take away from Arnold’s Conan version. If you ever read R.E.H. books he never specifically stated how Conan was raised and who killed his family, he never got a chance to expand on his greatest creation of Conan cus he died young..So we will never know but he mentions little things here and there of how he was born and raised. I like the fact that Nispel re-imagine Conan to this generation of fans old and new to not try to top Arnold’s version but to enhance it and create a deeper perspective of a younger version Conan to this relative time..I Can’t wait till this Thur when it comes out..By Crom!!

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      I guess it might be considered a remake because the movie title doesn’t have a sub-title, ie Conan the Barbarian – The Beginning.

      But this movie doesn’t seem to have much in common with the first one. It’s more of a reboot then a re-make.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H6T3FYJLH5DHM6DU2SU54WFDT4 Kelvin

    So we have plenty of CGI backgrounds, a weak villain and a an anticlimactic final duel……..hmmm to me that spells bad movie!

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      Hard to say from the review if this is a good movie or not. I wonder if BH is deliberately avoiding some sort of rating system that would help the reader determine how much the writer likes a movie, so we can determine whether we want to fork out the dough to watch in the theather, wait for a disc release, cable, release, etc. Reviews do not necessarily determine whether or not I watch a movie, but rather what format I want to watch it in.

      After reading the review, i think despite the problems like a weak villian etc, it’s still a good movie. i think?

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      Hard to say from the review if this is a good movie or not. I wonder if BH is deliberately avoiding some sort of rating system that would help the reader determine how much the writer likes a movie, so we can determine whether we want to fork out the dough to watch in the theather, wait for a disc release, cable, release, etc. Reviews do not necessarily determine whether or not I watch a movie, but rather what format I want to watch it in.

      After reading the review, i think despite the problems like a weak villian etc, it’s still a good movie. i think?

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      Hard to say from the review if this is a good movie or not. I wonder if BH is deliberately avoiding some sort of rating system that would help the reader determine how much the writer likes a movie, so we can determine whether we want to fork out the dough to watch in the theather, wait for a disc release, cable, release, etc. Reviews do not necessarily determine whether or not I watch a movie, but rather what format I want to watch it in.

      After reading the review, i think despite the problems like a weak villian etc, it’s still a good movie. i think?

      • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

        We did away with a ratings system years ago. It’s a lazy crutch, for both the reviewer and the reader. If you take the time to read our reviews, it clearly tells you what we think of the movie.

        • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

          I figured it might have been a conscious decision to not use a specific rating system.

          From this review, i got the impression that he liked the movie, but not sure how much he liked it.

  • Sorrento_coo

    Another positive!!! YESSS!!!!

  • kazar

    i got the feeling from the review it was okay sword and fantasy fare but nothing worth bragging about.

  • kazar

    i got the feeling from the review it was okay sword and fantasy fare but nothing worth bragging about.

  • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

    Glad to see a positive review. But definitely not a remake. Though many if not most people’s knowledge and familiarity with Conan comes from the 1982 film so its understandable why everyone is using remake and not reboot. It’s like people only knowing Dracula from film. But I can’t wait to see this film.

  • Cjbull3

    Yes Dedpool is right more of a reboot. Like the James Bond movies just like when they came out with Casino Royal. Well this is the Casino Royal version of Conan as of his origin story. And we all know there is lots of interpertations of Conan through out the years taken out of R.E.H.’s stories. I’m also tired of people constantly saying this is a movie remake of Arnold’s 82′ Conan. This is totatlly different, I mean its the same in the sense its a revenge story. But vs the 82 Conan with Arnold. This story goes more in depth of his original beginnings of his childhood and more of his race and more depth of his father then the 82 version. And this has 2 different villians, the 82 had Thulsa Doom from the comics villian and this new version is Zym, love interest in 82′ was Valeria a pirate in the comics that belonged in the Brotherhood, and this new version is Tamara. But don’t compare it to a remake. Its a reimagining and reboot of the character Conan through stories taken from R.E.H. scope, to visions of dark horse comics, and more visually more eye candy then the 82′ version but we know that. John Milus the director of the 82′ did not have the technolgoy to use in this day of age but that movie is still classic. So either way I will watch this cus Conan whether you love him or hate him has been around since the birth of fantasy movies or fantasy stories in general..Thank You R.E.H…thank you for letting us enjoy your character and the code he lives by, and some of us can relate to him because he is just a flawed man! The ulitmate anti hero..He just so happens to carry a sword and arguably the greatest swordsman of his time..fantasy wise of course..lol.. He is ..Just like all of us.. A man who —Lives…Loves…Slay..and who is just Content. As we all are in this day and age..By Crom can’t wait..Peace!!

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      Darth Vader as Thulsa Doom was awesome. One of the best things about that first conan.

      • Cjbull3

        Yeah James Earl Jones was the best an always will be the best villain voice Star Wars Lore of all time haha. Such a great presence of a man such an awesome actor..Yes he was Thulsa Doom..”…………..Yes! You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do. Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; a beautiful girl. Come to me, my child… That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him!”–Thulsa Doom

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H6T3FYJLH5DHM6DU2SU54WFDT4 Kelvin

      Remake……reboot……is the average movie goer REALLY going to care!!
      If Nispel or anyone on the production team wanted to make sure this film was more a reboot than a remake then they could have made a bit more of an effort with the title!
      But hey why not call it “Conan The Barbarian”!
      Further confusing comes when other “remakes” are different from the original films………should we also call them “reboots” too?

      Like I said reboot, remake……who really cares…….it’s a new version of Conan……it’s similar in basic plot……but not scene for scene, nor character for character identical……..but then again a remake would be pointless if it were to be exactly the same as the original.
      But like I said…….If you are going to title the film “Conan the Barbarian”…….it’s only logical to compare this movie with the 1980′s movie with the exact same name!

      • Cjbull3

        Of course people are gonna care Kelvin. Honestly I dont’ know how big of a Conan fan you are in general or if your just a fan of Arnold and his 82′ version? Im just pointing out people in general that say this is a remake of Arnold’s Conan which is clearly not. I will agree with you of them using the same title. Just like the Batman movies, like C.Nolan using titles like Dark Knight or Batman Begins..Instead of using just Batman again of Tim Burton’s movies. But hey Nispel chose to use the same title maybe ask him why he did? But to compare the 2 movies this is obviously a reboot of the Conan story. And yes the average movie goer is not really gonna care because its those ones that really don’t grasp what they don’t know and just be a critic of what they want to believe, without putting sense or logic to what they say!!!??? But im not here to fight with you im just pointing out what a lot have said.Believe what you want. Either way this should be a good re-imagining and re-boot of the greatest fantasy hero ever created from the sword and sorcery genre..So enjoy my Conan the Barbarian fans!! Haters will always be out there. And as a general fan I do Love Conan the Barbarian with Arnold and I’m pretty sure I will live this Conan The Barbarian of Momoa..Peace..By Crom..Live..Love…Slay..and now Im Content…..

      • Cjbull3

        Of course people are gonna care Kelvin. Honestly I dont’ know how big of a Conan fan you are in general or if your just a fan of Arnold and his 82′ version? Im just pointing out people in general that say this is a remake of Arnold’s Conan which is clearly not. I will agree with you of them using the same title. Just like the Batman movies, like C.Nolan using titles like Dark Knight or Batman Begins..Instead of using just Batman again of Tim Burton’s movies. But hey Nispel chose to use the same title maybe ask him why he did? But to compare the 2 movies this is obviously a reboot of the Conan story. And yes the average movie goer is not really gonna care because its those ones that really don’t grasp what they don’t know and just be a critic of what they want to believe, without putting sense or logic to what they say!!!??? But im not here to fight with you im just pointing out what a lot have said.Believe what you want. Either way this should be a good re-imagining and re-boot of the greatest fantasy hero ever created from the sword and sorcery genre..So enjoy my Conan the Barbarian fans!! Haters will always be out there. And as a general fan I do Love Conan the Barbarian with Arnold and I’m pretty sure I will live this Conan The Barbarian of Momoa..Peace..By Crom..Live..Love…Slay..and now Im Content…..

        • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

          Conan as the “best” sword swinging fantasy hero ever is pushing it. Burroughs John Carter of Mars, and the Franzetta cover books could be up there with Conan the Cimarrian. Although I do admit, Crom is the God of all Gods. He would wipe the floor with Zeus and Odin.

          Zach Snyder should do a movie on Crom.

          • Cjbull3

            Well Tin to give you a history lesson…I may think “Best” sword swingin fantasy hero cus I truly believe that because before him there was who???—But to give you a history……Sorry I may be a little bias…and I’m not here to put anyone down..Everyone has their favorite heros..Mine just so happens to be Conan..Enjoy—-

            In the Cross Plains Texas field an american boy is born in the year of January 22, 1906 to the Legendary name of Robert Ervin Howard…And from his youth to his teen years and his struggles in the Depression era he became one of the greatest authors of any generation in american history, and in the years of 1932-1935 he gave birth to the Greatest Iconic and Legendary character ever created in -Conan The Barbarian, a Cimmerian -Born on the Battlefield..

            A character whose pop-culture imprint has been compared to such icons as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard created the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning a wide swath of imitators and giving him an influence in the fantasy field rivaled only by J. R. R. Tolkien and Tolkien’s similarly inspired creation of high fantasy.

            Sadly =( R.E.H. died at the age of 30 on June 11 1936..And his stories evolved to fantastic proportions.. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works endlessly reprinted. He has been compared to other American masters of the weird, gloomy and spectral, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Jack London.

            And in a year later in 1937 another great Iconic Author J.R.R. Tolkien creates the Hobbit and later the Lord of the Rings..I wonder what influenced him in the Fantasy world??haha Ok thats my history lesson for today for you all. If you guys thought that Conan was something created only in the 80′s lol. The Character is legendary in the world of fantasy and the sword and sorcery. Thanks to R.E.H. God Bless all Great minds..Peace..and Love…Live…Slay…

          • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

            You know i was only kidding with you, right? Every one will have their own opinion on this subject. Undoubtedly, Conan is one of the great fantasy figures out there.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H6T3FYJLH5DHM6DU2SU54WFDT4 Kelvin

            Zach Snyder? Tin……… I thought he did a good job on “Watchmen”…….but “Sucker Punch”……boy was that a disappointing mess of a movie!

          • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

            All his movies are a mess, but they’re a pretty mess.

  • Cjbull3

    And on another note..Edgar Rice Burroughs is a great actor of his time the father of Tarzan and John Carter..Much props to him but ..John Carter vs Conan with swords or even a knife fight..thats gonna be a slaughter haha lol John’s gonna be known as John “Carved up to pieces” Carter after that fight haha..

    • Cjbull3

      My bad I meant to say great ” Author” not actor lol

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      I think the Monkey King could beat Conan!

      • Cjbull3

        only maybe if its hand to hand combat haha sword on sword???

        • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

          It would be weapon of choice. So sword against staff. And the Monkey King would poke him till death. But if Conan gets lucky, we’ll have a headless Monkey on our hands.

        • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

          It would be weapon of choice. So sword against staff. And the Monkey King would poke him till death. But if Conan gets lucky, we’ll have a headless Monkey on our hands.

          • Cjbull3

            haha very true Tin but if its a wooden staff thats gonna get sliced in half, but steel staff on the other hand? Now that will be a hell of a fight though lol.. Knowing those 2 they might not even end up fighting and just spar and end up drinking and gettin drunk ?? haha lol

      • Cjbull3

        Yeah no worries Tin all good. Yeah everyone is entitled to their own hero or preference or likes.

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

      Biased much? Lol. But I have to agree with you. Carter is still a more civilized man to begin with having been born and raised in modern times. Conan IS a barbarian!

    • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

      Biased much? Lol. But I have to agree with you. Carter is still a more civilized man to begin with having been born and raised in modern times. Conan IS a barbarian!

  • Klayven

    Similar to Ahnold/Milius flick in Conan’s village being raided; this nvr happened in the books as he was a lad of 15 and still among his people when we first hear of him in REH’s stories. No one ever said anything bad happened to his village in the books.

  • clarkspark

    Saw the movie…it was ok. Great action sequences, gory, good cgi. I especially liked the beginning. The last fight/confrontation was lackluster as was the ending. My biggest gripe was the soundtrack. It really needed a masterpiece from Basil Poledouris. Something that inspired epic. Now, I just want to order the old Conans on bluray….