Main cast: Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian), Rachel Nichols (Tamara), Stephen Lang (Khalar Zym), Rose McGowan (Marique), Bob Sapp (Ukafa), Steven O’Donnell (Lucius), Diana Lubenova (Cheren), Nonso Anozie (Artus), Saïd Taghmaoui (Ela-Shan), Milton Welsh (Remo), Ron Perlman (Corin), and Morgan Freeman (the Narrator)
Director: Marcus Nispel
Does the world needs another Conan the Barbarian movie? Well, Hollywood certainly thinks so, with Jason Mamoa stepping into the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, arguably the most popular beefcake to date to play the lead role in film adaptations of the adventures of Robert E Howard’s most famous creation.
A long, long time ago, necromancers created the Mask of Archeron to summon armies of the dead to rule the world. Some heroes managed to defeat them and shatter the Mask into pieces, with each hero taking a piece for safekeeping. Corin, Conan’s father, has a piece, and it soon turns out that his “safekeeping measures” go only as far as keeping it buried rather shallowly in the ground underneath his home. Well, I guess people were more stupid back in those days.
Khalar Zym is a war-mongering villain who wants to restore the Mask in order to revive his dead wife, a powerful witch, and order his armies to take over the world. Oh, and he also has a creepy incestuous thing going on with his daughter Marique. He crossed Conan’s path when his armies razed Conan’s village and Khalar Zym had Corin killed after retrieving Corin’s piece of the Mask.
Conan, naturally, swears revenge. He gets his chance when he gets his hands on Tamara, a priestess who is fleeing from Khalar Zym’s men. She is a “pure-blood” descendent of the sorcerers that created the Mask, you see, and her sacrifice would restore the Mask’s power. Along the way, there are many adventures, violence, and a nice scene of Jason Momoa’s bared bum.
This movie certainly starts out on a high note, with a young Conan cheerfully and brutally murdering some savage ambushers, and it gets better as Conan proceeds to leave a bloody trail behind him in his quest for vengeance. Jason Momoa surprises me by being quite a good Conan – he may be a bit too pretty for the role, but he is a solid presence here. Rachel Nicols does as well as she could in a generally underwritten “female love interest with a bit of sass and some spine” role, and the other members of the cast hold their own very well. Rose McGowan is of course deliciously nasty and Stephen Lang plays his villain role with just the right amount of ham and relish.
For a long time, the movie is a blast, managing to capture the perfect sense of fantastical absurdity and providing a great first-class ticket to a no-nonsense violent action fantasy flick. The pacing is great, the acting is competent, and the action scenes are thrilling to watch.
Unfortunately, it descends into standard buffoonery in the late third or so. The heroine does something really, really stupid in order to get herself captured by the villains. It’s downhill from that moment, as the plot holes become even bigger – the characters manage to catch up with the villains without difficulty despite the villains having considerable lead, for example – and the denouement crosses the line from just enough ham and cheese to just too much.
Still, there’s no denying that Conan the Barbarian is a pleasant surprise. Were not for the disappointing pay-off, this one would have been a great guilty pleasure. As it is, it’s a fine example of a popcorn flick that is best enjoyed with minimal expectations.