Review in a Hurry: A gleeful throwback to the not-even-hugely-popular-in-its-day subgenre of '80s R-rated fantasy, the kind of movie a 13 year-old boy may lap up now and be embarrassed about years later. Not that there's anything wrong with that—it may be ridiculous as all get-out, but the fact that the exaggeration is so irony free is charming in its own way.
The Bigger Picture: Does anybody remember how, in the lead up to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay made a big deal about how 3-D requires longer shots so that the eye can perceive it properly, and therefore his editing would be less hyper? Yeah, Conan the Barbarian director Marcus Nispel never got that memo. So while it's possible that there are kids out there with short enough attention spans to follow the action sequences herein, it's highly unlikely that the 3-D effects in them will be observed—let alone appreciated—by the naked eye.
Determined to offend anyone who would dare take things too seriously, Nispel's new take on Robert E. Howard's hulking hero begins with fetal Conan in the womb. Prematurely born as the result of a sword slash, the kid is cut out of his mom by Ron Perlman and the ZZ Top pelt that adorns his face. The mother names her son with her last breath, as dad raises his animatronic baby boy to the heavens and screams. Perhaps somebody found this emotionally stirring at one point or another, but don't worry if it elicits laughter—you may still have fun with what's to come.
Years later, the bad guy from Avatar and his daughter, all done up like Babylon 5's Londo Mollari, come a-calling, seeking a piece of bone that will finish the assemblage of a magic crown. In the process, Conan's dad is killed and the youngster is emotionally and physically scarred. Years go by, and our barbarian grows up to be Jason Momoa, Londo Mollari-like girl becomes Rose McGowan, and Stephen Lang's Khalar Zym stays the same age somehow. Maybe it's the bone crown.
From here on out, it's a fairly simple tale of revenge, complicated only by the fact that the villains need a particular female sacrifice to complete their task, in this case Rachel Nichols' Tamara. Since the world these characters inhabit is largely computer-generated and mostly uninhabited, the stakes seem pretty low–does anyone really care if some warlord resurrects his dead wife? Based on what we actually see, these cities all have a population of like 20 people anyway. It's not like any villain could do much with that.
But of course it doesn't matter.
What matters is that Conan fights guys made of sand, Conan fights a tentacle-monster, Conan cuts a guy's nose off. It should be noted that Conan is also stunningly sexist, consistently treating Tamara like a slave and an object, for which she instantly falls in love with him.
Momoa, who in early stills looked like a male model playing dress-up, is surprisingly good. He may not get any lines as memorable to Arnold Schwarzenegger's answer to what is good in life, but he makes a solid action hero in more ways than one.
So did director Nispel intend an inherent camp factor? Given his filmography, it seems unlikely. But then it wouldn't be half as charming if the film were actually winking at itself; let's not forget Arnold did that in an ill-advised sequel (and spin-off, if you count Red Sonja) the first time around.
The original Barbarian is still classic, but Nispel has at least made the second-most-fun Conan movie to date.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Khalar Zym travels over desert terrain in a giant boat carried on the backs of elephants. There's a Werner Herzog movie in there somewhere, and imagining it is sometimes more fun than watching what's actually onscreen.