Netflix UK film review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Ivan Radford | On 18, Sep 2014
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan
Watch Conan the Barbarian online in the UK: Netflix UK
“I live, I love, I slay. I am content.” When Jason Momoa says it, you believe him. His Conan is as monosyllabic as a loaf of bread, but his fingernails are the size of a bus. Of course he’s convincing.
Still, it’s not as if Momoa has a tough act to follow. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original outing was hardly a five star classic. Toning down the cheese, this modern take on the swords-and-sandals adventure takes advantage of CGI to render the fantasy landscape perfectly. It just forgets to fill it with characters.
The script (by Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood) tries to start well with Conan’s formative years. But when your heartfelt backstory begins with a bloody birth sequence, you can tell you’re in a certain type of storytelling.
At least the casting is right. Hacking and slashing everything to pieces, Momoa’s Conan is an intimidating presence – and director Marcus Nispel knows what to do with him, producing some solid set pieces, especially one scene involving fighters made of sand. Every few minutes, another man’s innards are spilled on the ground in a satisfyingly messy manner. Who knew it was so easy to crack a man’s head open with your bare hands?
Amid the guts and entrails, Rachel Nichols does a decent job as Tamara, the token damsel in distress. It turns out her blood is needed by the evil Khalar Zym (Lang) to turn him into an immortal god. Or something. So while Zym tries to unleash the power of the underworld – accompanied by his freaky witch daughter (McGowan), whose main job is to look like Helena Bonham Carter – Conan rushes to protect Tamara and save the world. A feisty independent woman rescued by a butch warrior so she can become his barbarian wench slave? Now that’s a satisfying narrative arc.
For all of the decent action and judicious use of Ron Perlman, Nispel’s nonsensical plot skips over stuff like logic looking for the next spurt of blood. One character (let’s call him Mr. Plot Device) is saved from death, then disappears until a 10 minute scene near the end that doesn’t even need to exist. At the end of one fight, Conan seems to be poisoned with a knife, which spreads blue blotches over his shoulder that no-one mentions for the rest of the film.
Yes, it’s enjoyably gory, but Conan’s story is too two-dimensional. And Lang’s villain isn’t memorable enough to stop the climax feeling disappointing and limp. Conan lives, he loves, he slays. But audiences won’t be content.
Conan the Barbarian is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.