out of Five
Running time: 112
Watchable sword and sorcery saga, enlivened by superb special effects sequences and some solid performances, though it's also a good twenty minutes too long and hampered by both a lack of humour and some dodgy dialogue.
What's it all about?
Directed by Marcus Nispel, Conan the Barbarian is based on the character created by Robert E. Howard, meaning that it's technically a reboot rather than a remake of John Milius' 1982 Schwarzenegger version. Narrated by Morgan Freeman (for no apparent reason), the film begins as Conan (Leo Howard, then Jason Momoa) is born on a bloody battlefield and raised by his father, Corin (Ron Perlman) amongst a tribe of Cimmerian barbarians.
When Conan is a young boy, his tribe – including his father - are slaughtered by the evil sorcerer Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who's looking for the pieces of a mythical all-powerful mask, together with his evil daughter Marique (Rose McGowan). Years later, revenge-obsessed Conan (Jason Momoa), picks up the trail of Khalar Zym, just as the sorcerer is about to fulfil his diabolic plan by sacrificing Tamara (Rachel Nichols, a bit too Valley Girl), the last remaining pure-blood of Acheron.
Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) delivers a solid, charismatic performance as Conan, though he's almost overshadowed by Leo Howard as his younger self, thanks to a terrific early fight sequence in the forest that the film never quite tops. There's also strong support from Perlman (on top growly form) and Lang (suitably hissable), while Rose McGowan is clearly having a whale of a time and comfortably steals every scene as the bald-headed, be-taloned and deliciously beastly sorceress.
The special effects are extremely impressive, particularly during the stunning Sand Warrior sequence, where Conan fights a series of creatures conjured out of sand by Marique. The production design work is good too, especially in the detail of the fantasy landscapes. In addition, there are also several enjoyably trashy sequences, whether it's Conan rescuing multiple cages full of half-naked women or an all-too-brief Conan the Pirate interlude, complete with swashbuckling thrills.
The main problem with the film is that it runs out of steam before the end and is a good 20 minutes too long as a result. It's also a bit too po-faced (it's hard not to wonder how the film might have been if Dwayne Johnson had played Conan), while some of the fight scenes are occasionally frustratingly edited (the Kraken sequence, for example, doesn't really work and should probably have been dropped).
Conan the Barbarian is never less than watchable, though the overly serious script means it's not quite as much fun as it could have been.