REVIEW: “Conan the Barbarian” (2011)

For the past few years Hollywood has been consumed with remaking movies from the 1980’s. I have to admit, “Conan the Barbarian” was one I could see being remade with satisfying results. I’m a fan of the original 1982 fantasy film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was a gritty and violent movie jammed with swordplay and sorcery. This time Jason Momoa takes on the role of Conan and while he does a good job channeling the Barbarian’s grunts, growls, and muscle flexes, ultimately the movie’s story runs out of gas and the special effects don’t live up to what you would expect from a 2011 movie.

We’re introduced to Conan at the time of his birth on the battlefield during an intense attack. His mother dies and he is raised by his father Corin (Ron Perlman), the leader of a tribe of barbarians. Conan grows into a young boy who’s agility and skills with the blade are beyond his years. It’s during this time that his village is attacked by an evil warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) who is seeking the pieces to an ancient mask he believes will resurrect his deceased wife and eventually lead to his rule over Hyboria. Doesn’t it always come down to that?

Zym and his army destroy young Conan’s village and leaving the boy to witness his father’s death. The story then catapults ahead to an adult Conan working as a mercenary. Still thirsty for revenge, he finds a trail that he hopes will lead to Zym. Zym still hasn’t figured the mask out and now is seeking a monastery that houses a pure-blood descendant (Rachel Nichols), blah, blah, blah. Conan ventures from location to location before tracking Zym down, falling for the descendant, and getting caught between saving her and carrying out his revenge.

The story has promise especially for those who love these types of fantasy films. It has moments that captures what made the original film a cult favorite particularly during the first half. But it hits a point where it begins to lose steam, turning into becomes a conventional and predictable fantasy tale. There are plenty of action scenes featuring snarls, sword twirling, and blood splatters. Some of them work well, but much of the action lacked context and seemed like nothing more than dressing. And I also found the finale to be as underwhelming as the buildup to it.

It’s also surprising to see how bland the special effects turned out to be. Many of the location shots look like hazy paintings instead of lived-in lands. There is also a creature battle close to the end that certainly doesn’t stand up to the visual accomplishments of today’s effects. But there is a really good effects-driven sequence where Conan is battling a group of sand warriors conjured up by Zym’s witch daughter Marique (Rose McGowan). It’s clearly the best the movie offers.

As I mentioned, Momoa is a soild Conan and Nichols is a good match for him on the screen. Perlman is a nice choice for Conan’s father even though it’s a relatively small role. Stephen Lang isn’t as bad as he was in “Avatar” but once again he seems to be following the “How to Play a Movie Villain” handbook. He overplays several scenes and he’s never the slightest bit menacing. McGowan, his co-antagonist, feels like a bigger threat even though her character is pretty shallow and forgettable.

Forgettable is also a good way to describe “Conan the Barbarian”. It’s not a terrible movie but it squanders a lot of potential. It does do a few things right especially in the first half. There are also moments that made me reflect back to the original film and how I responded to it as a kid. Unfortunately this one can’t sustain a compelling story and the visuals don’t feel like a worthy enough upgrade. This was one remake that I expected a lot more from.



THE THROWDOWN : Stallone vs. Schwarzenegger

Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects, pit them against each other, and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and more. I’ll make a case for each and then see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

*Last week Christian Bale (74%) manhandled Michael Keaton (26%) in a Batman battle to the death.*

This week it’s an action movie face-off between the two biggest names of the 80’s. The 80’s and early 90’s were the glory days of the action genre and no one was bigger than Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Forget the critical acclaim, the stuffy Academy Awards, and the overrated importance of good acting. These guys were all about biceps, blood, and bullets. Before they teamed up in the recent “The Expendables” movies, these two had a huge box office rivalry that lasted several years. Now it’s time to settle the big question. Which of these action movie icons is truly the best? Their guns are loaded, their knives are sharpened, and their muscles are flexed. But it’s your votes that will decide the outcome.


At 66-years old, Sly Stallone is still kicking bad guy’s butts on the big screen. But then again, he’s been doing it for almost 40 years. His career really took off in 1976 with “Rocky”. But it was “First Blood” and “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” that laid the foundation for what would become an amazing action movie career. He would go on to clean up a psycho cult in “Cobra”, team up with Kurt Russell in “Tango & Cash”, hang from mountain cliffs in “Cliffhanger”, battle baddies in the future with “Demolition Man” and “Judge Dredd”, and rescue survivors trapped in a collapsed tunnel in “Daylight”. He’s also made several more “Rocky” pictures and two more “Rambo” films. He has several new projects ahead but he’ll always be remembered for his incredible run that helped make the action genre so popular.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may have more memorable scenes and memorable one-liners than anyone in cinema history. He also has an action movie resume that’s as impressive as any you will see. This one-time Austrian bodybuilder made a name for himself in the early 80’s with his “Conan” films. But his career really took off when he traded his sword for a gun in the sci-fi classic “The Terminator”. He then cemented his one-man-army status in “Commando” and “Raw Deal”. He would battle an alien threat in the spectacular military sci-fi film “Predator”. He also ventured into the future with “The Running Man” and “Total Recall” before making what is one of the best sequels of all time, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. He mad several more action films including “True Lies” and another successful “Terminator” flick. This 65-year old has no plans on slowing down and you’ll see him plenty in 2013.

So there’s a case for both. Now you decide who’s the winner. The action movie genre wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of these two icons. So vote now. Who’s the heavier hitter, Arnie or Sly? You decide!