This muscular reboot is let down by a lacklustre story and god-awful script.
You can praise John Millius' 1982 film Conan the Barbarian all you want but the bottom line is that it borrowed heavily from the Robert E Howard stories and gave bugger all back. The barren wasteland in which Millius set the film left very little to the imagination, and undoubtedly part of the reasoning behind it was to make sure that our primary focus was set firmly on the bulky 22-inch biceps of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In stark contrast, Marcus Nispel’s reboot of the franchise whole heartedly embraces the anti-hero character and his surrounding world of Hyboria, but it’s let down by a comprehensively shoddy story and somewhat laughable script.
The film's groundings are in much the same fashion as Millius' – with a young Conan’s village coming under attack from an evil tyrant, leaving his father (played by a grunting Ron Perlman) to die in traditionally grandiose fashion. However, unlike the original in which Conan is enslaved into captivity, Nispel opts to demonstrate a little due diligence by exploring how the iconic character came to be the feral hulk of a man he is – thieving, pirating and all of the above.
For the most part, this section of the film is fairly engrossing, with a solid performance from 13-year-old Leo Howard who plays young Conan in a series of sequences which go some way to establishing not just the character but also the surrounding world. Regrettably, however, much of that good work is seemingly tossed out the window the moment the fully-grown Conan emerges on screen in the guise of the brooding Jason Momoa.
At this stage, you may as well pull out a Robert E Howard book and start reading because the movie descends into nothing more than a bog standard adventure story, with every encounter serving as simply a way of moving the lumbering story forward from A to B.
Should anyone really care? The ABC story arch concerns the gathering of some scattered pieces of a powerful Mask and then a search for a 'pure blood' descendant of some sorcerers before one climatic fight. It’s an incredibly lackluster approach to an iconic literary character, leaving a sour taste that’s on par with investing half an hour into a 'choose your path gamebook' only to discover you’ve died on page 63.
Admittedly, it’s not all bad. While venturing on the meandering story, Hyboria is brilliantly realised, with each location giving the surrounding world a character of its own and more importantly a wonderful fantasy edge. Equally, the action sequences certainly live up to their R rating and while the film may not be in the realms of Jonathan English’s Ironclad, they suitably live up to the gory expectations of the Robert E Howard books.
In fact, after years of tame sword wielding big screen adventures such as Clash of the Titans and Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s gratifying to finally see a bit of gratuitous violence back on the big screen, even if the rest of the film is wrapped up in a bit of a lame bow.
There’s a good foundation with which to build on and far more promise than most hack and slash adventures in recent years, but as a standalone film, Conan the Barbarian is poor. While it is beautifully rendered, the film is let down by poor storytelling, and an even worse script that never really allows Momoa the chance to flex his acting muscles outside of being 'the beefcake warrior'.
John Millius film may have lacked a Hyborian flavor about it and Arnie’s Conan might only have had a handful of lines, but the film certainly had a compelling story; Something Nispel’s reboot is desperately in need of.
Crom won’t be happy if this turns out to be another boring wasteland punctuated with muscles once again.
Hyboria is spot on and the violence suitably graphic but the story is hopelessly poor.
A missed chance. There’s a good foundation to build on, but the immediate film is let down by a lacklustre story and god-awful script.