Directed by Marcus Nispel
“Born on the battlefield.
A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.”
“Conan the Barbarian” is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality and nudity.
Since it’s been so long since an honest to god Conan movie was in theaters and reboot fever is filling the land, that’s what Nispel is going to serve, starting off with Conan’s (Jason Momoa) earliest days as he is literally born on a battlefield during an impromptu c-section. From there it becomes quickly apparent he was born to fight and kill, which means anyone stupid enough to attack and kill his entire village better kill him too or they’re in trouble.
Of course if they did then there wouldn’t be much of “Conan” movie. A cynic might say we’re not getting much of a Conan movie anyway, but that depends very much on what you want out of it. The soulfulness and introspection John Milius attempted to inject in his adaptation is right out.
In its place we get several decades worth of advancements in gore effects which Nispel unleashes with gleeful abandon. It’s not too far of a stretch to say that by far the greatest amount of creativity has been spent on various methods of dismembering, disemboweling or otherwise diss-ing Conan’s various adversaries than any other part of the film.
It also, as we’ve come to expect from Nispel’s films, looks excellent. The design work and Bulgarian locations show off the world of Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation to its best effect, from pirate ships to mountain fortresses. And he’s filled those vistas with some truly bone crunching action to do Conan proud. Combined with a dark sense of humor and new “Conan” is frequently more entertaining than it should be.
That’s about where the good ends, though. In unfortunate keeping with the tradition of the other film and TV adaptations, the film is badly cast and none more so than Conan himself. Momoa doesn’t seem capable of delivering his lines any way but to yell them at full force, often with teeth gritted. Most of the rest of the male cast were only brought in more for their physical attributes than anything else, with only Ron Perlman as Conan’s father offering anything in the way of actual acting.
Rachel Nichols is likewise badly miscast in a role that takes advantage of none of her actual skills and instead forces horrible fantasy-speak into her mouth as an excuse to put her in the scenery.
The villains come off slightly better–not unusual in action films where the villains are almost more colorful–with Rose McGowan putting on her best vamp act. Stephen Lang does his normal scenery chewing but he tends to get let down as the film goes along through a mixture of bad plot and horrible design work. He spends the last act wearing an octopus on his head like a turban and it’s hard to notice much else when he’s around.
Ultimately, for all its grinning and gurning, “Conan the Barbarian” is an unremarkable piece of fantasy adventure filmmaking. It is completely uninterested in advancing the style of these sorts of things in any way. Nispel would much rather spend his time thinking up as many manly exploits as he can to fill his brief running time. If that’s the sort of thing you like, “Conan” is right up your alley, but it doesn’t offer much to anyone else.
More along the lines of the making of this movie, you get “Battle Royal – Engineering The Action.” They discuss the fight choreography, the elaborate sets, the horse chase, and other things. You get a real sense of how Nispel likes to shoot as much as possible practically. As an added bonus you see all of the pre-visualization footage the creators made for the fight scenes. Rounding out the bonus features are some audio commentaries by director Marcus Nispel, Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan. Missing from the bonus features are any discussions on the elaborate production design, the visual effects, and Ron Perlman. Still, it’s a decent offering.