You think your childhood was rough? Check out the opening 20 minutes of Conan the Barbarian
, a bone-cracking coming-of-age prologue that fully explains the "Barbarian" part of the name. The film gets off to a ripping start, including li'l Conan's lethal dispatching of a crowd of restless natives (it's not every lad that returns from camp with the decapitated heads of his enemies dangling from his shoulders) and a great deal of hoo-hah about the forging of swords. As the character grows into manhood, played by Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones
), the cascade of brutality continues: boiling oil, nose trauma, death by metal fingernails--you name it, the movie has it. The "origin story" plot is a workable way into the world of pulp writer Robert E. Howard's hero: Conan seeks vengeance for the death of his father (Ron Perlman) and pursues power-hungry Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, enjoying the fruits of Avatar
), who in turn seeks the final piece of a many-tailed magic mask, which will give him untold power. Rose McGowan is all spooky as Khalar's daughter (she's got the fingernails) and Rachel Nichols is an innocent slated to be sacrificed by the evildoers. Director Marcus Nispel rolls out the tech hardware for this relentless action picture, pumping up every sound with a digital whammy that might make your head feel it has been split in two by Conan's mighty sword (that is, if you didn't already feel that from the chaotic cutting--since the movie was originally released in uninspired 3-D, this visual unpleasantness was enhanced in theaters). The movie's not a complete bust, but it is a fairly punishing experience. As for Momoa, he's got the pectorals, and generally comes across as a likable sort. Of course, Conan isn't supposed to be a likable sort, so his casting will likely trigger an unexpected response in viewers familiar with the 1982 version of the character. You will miss Arnold Schwarzenegger. --Robert Horton
A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.