Conan the Barbarian movie poster
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Conan the Barbarian movie poster

Conan the Barbarian Movie Review

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I live, I love, I slay, and I am content. So says star Jason Mamoa in 2011’s remake Conan the Barbarian. At least that makes one of us.

Rebooting a franchise no one asked for, director Marcus Nispel, who has made a career of flashy reboots ranging from the surprisingly good The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the entertaining-but-I-know-I’m-in-the-minority Friday the 13th, has amped the action, violence, blood and gore with this retelling of the Arnold Schwarzenegger camp-classic.

The new Conan the Barbarian is a pretty good movie, except Nispel forgot to use a script (there was a script, right?), tell a story (something about revenge or sorcery or sacrificing the blood of attractive women?) or make the movie any good at all. While the original is by no means a “good” movie, it is entertaining in all the right ways. Nispel’s version is about as pleasant as being ravaged by a dozen barbarians.

People who love action for the sake of action – and yes, there are those people – Conan the Barbarian delivers. Nispel rarely pauses to develop his characters, which is wise since the characters aren’t worth developing. He shifts from one action scene to the next, holding nothing back when it comes to gore or extravagant set pieces. And yet, not a single action scene is memorable, nor particularly exciting. It’s action for the sake of action, suspense be damned.

At least he plays to the movie’s strengths. Had Nispel and his screenwriters (I checked – there are three) taken time to develop their characters, thus leading to more engaging action, he would have exposed just how bland Jason Mamoa is. Not that he does a very good job of hiding it.

Mamoa is noticeably unnoticeable as the title character. For a role defined by a big-muscled gargling Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s stunning that Mamoa does so little to leave his own mark. He utters the few lines given to him with no charisma, but it’s his on-screen presence – from his appearance to his mannerisms – that makes him forgettable. Schwarzenegger was a badass; Mamoa, who had a strikingly more memorable role as a “barbarian” king in the HBO show “Game of Thrones”, is just some guy in an action movie.

And that’s all Conan the Barbarian is. An action movie. An action movie full of action, but little thought to plot, characters or entertaining the audience. It isn’t without its moments, but Conan the Barbarian is a perfect example of a movie of a big budget completely wasted.

Conan the Barbarian is now available on Blu-ray, which includes two feature-length commentaries, a documentary that explores the various depictions of the character, another that looks at the life of author Robert E. Howard, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. A digital copy of the movie is also included.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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