ComicsHistory Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian--So Easy to Like, a Barbarian Could Do It!

ComicsHistory Movie Review:  Conan the Barbarian--So Easy to Like, a Barbarian Could Do It!

Conan the Barbarian is a fun romp through the bowels of barbarism, sword-based revenge, and blood-sacrifice sorcery.

Conan the Barbarian, the 2011 movie version of the 79-year old Conan pulp/comics/movie franchise, is a fun romp through the bowels of barbarism, sword-based revenge, and blood-sacrifice sorcery. All of which is exactly what a Sword and Sorcery story should entail. This review will look at the heroes, the villains, and the similarities to the original Conan source code, the pulp fiction stories of Robert E. Howard.

First, before all else, it should be mentioned that this is a very R-rated version of Conan, and that this Conan movie review contains spoilers. Having given the obligatory warning; on with the review.

Our primary hero, Conan, is an athletic, supremely strong, but scarred barbarian from the chilly hill country of Cimmeria. He is literally born on the battlefield, as his pregnant mother is mortally wounded by her people’s foes. As the young child is pulled from his mother’s pierced womb by his father, his first taste is not of his mother’s milk, but of his mother’s blood. Before dying, she names the child Conan. He is raised by his father, the village blacksmith, a hard man who trains his son in the ways of the sword, both in its crafting, and in its use. Young Conan shows a propensity for violence and victory, as he singlehandedly kills a band of marauders who scare away the other Cimmerian children. As with the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Conan, the young man’s village is wiped out by a small army commanded by an evil sorcerer-warlord. In Arnold’s movie, the bad guy is Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), while in the 2011 version, it is Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), aided by his oddly beautiful daughter Marique (Rose McGowan). Khalar Zym seeks a piece of an ancient artifact whose supernatural power will resurrect his dead, but very evil, wife, and basically make him a god so that he can wash the world in the blood of his enemies (his words, not mine). Note: Typical super-villain evil plot scheme, somewhat reminiscent of the Red Skull’s quest for the Cosmic Cube in the Captain America move, but Skully didn’t have any familial relations to distract him.

Of course, any movie starring a muscular hero must feature an attractive love (or at least sex) interest, and in this Conan film, that role is filled by the attractive Tamara (Rachel Nichols). Tamara is a pure-blood from the old race, and, her quality blood is needed by Khalar Zym and Marique to complete the occult ritual to rise the dead wife/mother from death and turn our bad guy into a god. One of the best parts of the film is when Conan rescues Tamara (more or less by accident), and then uses her as bait to try to enact his revenge on Khalar Zym. The interaction between Jason Momoa and Rachel Nichols is quite amusing. Of course, Conan eventually falls for the hot Tamara. Her ability to defend herself, killing off a few evil villain henchmen on her own, and saving Conan’s life helps our hero decide she is worth saving (and bedding—more “R” rated stuff that probably was not necessary to show graphically in this film). The fight scene between Tamara and Marique is not bad.

The adult version of Conan in this movie (played by Jason Momoa), is a rouge, but a charming one. He is definitely no choir boy, but then, no self-respecting barbarian would be. At one point in the film, Conan declares that he “Lives, loves, and slays.” And that seems to sum up what he is. He is also, according to his piratical buddy, Artus (Nonso Anozie), “loyal as a bloodhound, and has the heart of a king.” To anyone familiar with the original Conan stories, that may serve as a bit of foreshadowing for future Conan movies. Jason Momoa is a credible Conan. He is more lithe and agile than Arnold, and, in my view, more physically similar to the figure imagined by Robert E. Howard. A bit more humor could have been mixed into Conan’s dialogue for my taste.
Jason Momoa as ConanThe villains, as mentioned before, are Khalar Zym and Marique, along with a half dozen or so evil henchman, all of whom end up having unpleasant encounters with Conan. Khalar, who is well-played by Stephen Lang, is an effectively malicious villain of the type who likes to verbalize his every evil design and plan as he ravages his way through the countryside. His daughter Marique practically drips evil as she aids her dad in his evil ways. The relationship between them is weird and potentially very icky, but luckily, the film doesn’t really go there in any great detail. Rose McGowan steals the show with her utterly natural sense of evilness. And despite the very strange makeup and costuming, she is alluringly sexy and debauched at the same time.

And speaking of debauchery, a comment must be made as to the use of a couple dozen or so bare-chested female extras who portray slave girls and bar trollops in the movie. Even if every other combat scene did not feature exploding skulls and other body parts oozing with blood and gore, the bare-chested bimbos surely would have earned this move a very strong “R” rating. I think this should almost be an NC-17 film. Almost too much gore and sex.

Despite that last comment, the gore and semi-naked women do fit into the violent and barbaric world of the Hyborian Age dreamt up by Robert E. Howard. Conan is a barbarian, and the world he lives in is one where villages are destroyed, people are enslaved, nasty sorcerers wander the earth seeking powerful artifacts, and swords are used to cleave off pieces of an enemy’s body in all the attendant blood-spattering gore. That was life in the Hyborian Age, and that is how life turns out for Conan. As an almost life-long fan of Conan, having read the Howard stories in the Ace Paperback books, and in Marvel Comics Conan series in the 1970s, and, of course, seeing The Arnold portray Conan while I was still in high school, I looked forward to a new take on an old character. Overall, I liked the new Conan movie. Not perfect, but a decent start on what I hope will be a regular movie franchise with Jason Momoa. This version seemed to pay tribute to the original stories, from the narration by Morgan Freeman in the beginning, which quoted directly from the first Conan story by Howard, to the reference to the “Tower of the Elephant” story from the 1930s. Nice touch! If you like bloody action, hot babes, faithfulness to the original intent of the character, go see this movie. If you can’t stand the idea of someone new playing Conan, go rent an old movie from the 80s.

See also:
Conan History

Conan The Barbarian

Rachel Nichols

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