After the attempt to (kind of) expand the Conan Universe with Red Sonja in 1985 fell short of expectations, the Conan Franchise went silent on the silver screen. While barbarians and fantasy seemed to have a fanbase on television throughout the 90’s, it was not until Game of Thrones that people seemed to feel like the genre of sword and sorcery could be revived.
Stepping into the loincloth of Conan was Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa. This film begins a bit more dramatically. We are treated to a narration by God (an uncredited Morgan Freeman). The film explains Conan was born of Battle and then makes this wholly literal, as his pregnant mother is fighting at her husbands side. Upon being mortally wounded, she commands her husband to cut the baby out so she can see him before she dies. So, it is a bit…over the top. Conan is raised by his father, the chieftain of a tribe dedicated to being powerful and wise warriors. But when their village is overrun by Khalar Zym who is hunting for a piece of a mystical artifact that Conan’s father has kept hidden, Conan and his father are tortured.
The movie then jumps ahead to a grown Conan living the lifestyle of adventurer. He finds himself drawn back into the fight to end the dark plans of Zym, who, along with his daughter Marique, seeks revenge on the world for the loss of his wife. They are seeking a pure blooded virgin for their special sacrifice. This turns out to be Tamara, whom Conan saves, forcing a battle of wills.
This Conan is a bit different from the Schwarzenegger version. Momoa is a leaner and more verbal Conan. This is actually more in line with Howard’s writings. The massive musculature we associate with the character was a development of Fantasy artists and the 1982 and 1984 films.
They are clearly trying to touch on all the versions of Conan. There are hints of the comics, the TV shows and films. Here Conan is a more skilled warrior. His father emphasizes the importance of the mind as a major component of the warrior.
Momoa is certainly entertaining as Conan. But the story is rather lackluster. Stephen Lang brings more to his role than seems to have been in the script. And Rose McGowan is fairly creepy as Marique.
Tamara is a problem for the film though. There is little for her to be, beyond a damsel in distress. She spends a good chunk of the final action tied up, and contributes little to the resolution of the film.
Conan the Barbarian is uneven, and this results in a lot of it just not keeping one’s attention. We are left with a rather average film, rather than an epic barbarian adventure.