“Better Late Than Never” Film Review: Conan The Barbarian
I will begin this review by showing you a picture. I believe this is important to help you understand where I’m coming from as I sit down to write this particular op/ed piece:
Yeah. I’m a bit of a Conan fan. I also have all of the Dark Horse hardcovers of the Conan series on another shelf. Also a Conan bust statue on another shelf. He’s one of my favorite literary characters of all time. People may not realize exactly how influential Robert E. Howard and Conan were on the world of fantasy literature. What seems old-hat now was groundbreaking when Howard put it to paper. The man was a visionary and I consider the character and his creator to be some of the most underrated and influential elements in American literature.
So how does this new film adaptation stand up? I’ll be completely honest, it’s not a great film. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s got about the same level of craftsmanship to it that a SyFy original movie might have, simply with a larger budget. But it has the advantage of having some really amazing actors and enough of a “I don’t give a f##k” attitude to push it a cut above such humble stock. I mean, the film begins with Morgan Freeman giving us the narration of what exactly Hyboria is and then we see Conan as a fetus getting cut out of his mother’s womb in the midst of a violent barbarian battle. If there is one thing that salvages the film, it’s that while they may not have made a great movie they made one hell of a CONAN movie. This is a hard-R rated violent barbarian action flick. Like Conan, it doesn’t have much in the way of flab. It’s pretty brisk and hops from action scene to action scene at a fairly quick clip. The action scenes themselves are usually quite well done for the budget they were working on, and really only the third act’s tentacle monster melee misses it’s mark, because the camerawork was done in such a way that it’s mostly just movement in closeups with a little bit of CGI monster on the fringe.
What makes the film worth watching is the cast. Jason Mamoa is a fine Conan. He plays the character with the sort of enthusiasm that he needs. There’s a wild, reckless blaze of fury in his eyes that does the character justice. The young actor playing Conan as a youth matches his intensity and the first twenty minutes of the film where we see Conan in his youth are some of the best parts of the film. Ron Perlman does his Ron Perlman thing, which you simply cannot complain about if you love Ron Perlman the way I do. And Stephen Lang chews some major scenery as the film’s villain who is basically every villain in the old Savage Sword books rolled into one. Rose McGowan does what she can but is more distracting than effective and Rachel Nichols, while beautiful, seems a bit out of place. They do what they’re supposed to do but really they’re just window dressing for Conan’s maniacal slaughter, and he delivers that in spades.
Some will criticize the film for bringing nothing new to the table but Conan was the genesis of much of today’s fantasy, thus making everything new seem old. It’s a shame the film did as poorly as it did. Conan fans will find much to love about this version. The general public not so much.
Rating: 7/10 on the Conan scale, 5/10 on the regular scale