Since this 2011 film is a remake/reboot of the '82 version of Conan the Barbarian I'll draw comparisons throughout this review.
Although the film's set-up is the same as the '82 version -- raiders destroy Conan's Cimmerian village and thus the barbarian seeks revenge -- the ensuing story is completely different. The villains here are Khalar Zym and his witchy daughter, Marique, who seek to resurrect Zym's sorcerous wife, once they attain the needed pure blood necessary for their Acheron magic (or something to this effect).
- Jason Momoa, as Conan, is excellent. Far better than Arnie. It's hard to conceive of a better Conan. - The Bulgarian locations are outstanding. - The Costuming is more convincing than the '82 version. Conan's apparel, for instance, is more faithful to REH than Arnie's fur loincloth. - Better acting than the '82 version, excluding James Earl Jones, of course. - Brutal, thrilling action throughout. - Convincing swordplay. - Corsairs, highlighted by Conan's comrade Artus, effectively played by likable Nonso Anozie. - Excellent sets/props. It definitely looks like the Hyborian Age. - Good serious vibe, despite the cartooney, over-the-top last act. - Rose McGowan as the witchy daughter is ee-vil and creepy. - Ron Perlman as Conan's father is outstanding. - The whole opening sequence. - I liked how the film stressed the closeness and love of Conan and his father. There's a correlation between true greatness and a close relationship with a strong father-figure and his example of excellence. - You have to give credit to the filmmakers for effectively illustrating Conan's youthful days and life in a Cimmerian village in general, something Conan's creator never delved into in any detail.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK:
- Deviated from Robert E. Howard, albeit not as much as the '82 version. Regardless, it certainly adhered to REH's overall pulp vibe. I'd prefer to see one of REH's originals put to film, like "A Witch Shall be Born" or "Beyond the Black River." - Stephan Lang as Zym makes a worthy enough villain for Conan, but he comes off too cliched and cartoony, especially in the final act. James Earl Jones' Thulsa Doom worked better, likely because he was so unique. - Rachel Nichols' Tamara is solid as the female protagonist, but she doesn't hold a candle to Sandahl Bergman's Valeria. - The score is serviceable but pales in comparison with Basil Poledouris' score from the '82 version and "Conan The Destroyer." This score defintely won't be celebrated 30 years later like Basil's. Why didn't they just update Polerdouris' score? - Too much "Modern Blockbuster Syndrome" that appeals to those with ADHD. - Especially the over-the-top final act, which is way too comic booky. It's cartoony overkill, pure and simple. But, then again, it did bring to mind REH's "Jewels of Gwahlur," so maybe it's not so far off the mark. - The 3D format was interesting but unnecessary. Why do theaters burden films with this needless expense? - The biggest flaw was that there wasn't enough depth. The film needed more 'downtime' to contrast the wall-to-wall action, like campfire scenes (which would better indicate distances), more camaraderie on the ship, more development of Conan & Tamara's relationship, etc. Although it had some of this, it wasn't enough. Action sequences naturally hold more weight when the audience cares about the characters. As it is, it's clear that the filmmakers wanted to make an action flick above all else and this weakens the film. - Along with lack of depth was the lack of epic-ness or moving moments. The '82 film deviated from REH but at least it made up for it with depth and epic-ness. For instance, when Conan & Subotai make their stand against the riders of doom or Conan's moving victory salute, not to mention the potent love & death/funeral scenes, etc. This 2011 version had glimpses of this, like when Conan is birthed on the battlefield then raised to the sky and when Conan's father expresses his love with his final act, but -- again -- it needed more.
The film runs 113 minutes.
THE DVD: I have to admit that I enjoyed the movie slightly more on non-3D DVD. Need I point out that the cover of the DVD is Conan to a 't'? The extras include a director's commentary (Marcus Nispel), a commentary with Momoa and McGowan, a 12-minute feature on REH, a slightly longer one on the character of Conan, and a couple of features on the action scenes.
CONCLUSION: The filmmakers got a lot of things right, like Momoa as Conan and the authentic look/feel of the Hyborian Age. The film's not bad at all and pulsates with energy, but it needed more depth, epic-ness and uniqueness to pull it out of its "blockbuster" mediocrity. It's violence for the sake of violence, which gets dull by the 90-minute mark, plus the last act is just cartooney overkill. Here's hoping that there will be a future Director's Cut DVD with important character-defining moments that were needlessly cut for the theatrical release ("Daredevil (Director's Cut)" comes to mind).
UPDATE: I just finished my third viewing of the movie and, I have to say, I was entertained from beginning to end. Isn't this the most important factor when viewing a movie, particularly an action-adventure one? Yes, it lacks the epic-ness and magic of the '82 version; and its focus on wall-to-wall action limits the film's effectiveness, but it's still a very worthy Conan movie. It's serious and brutal, and -- thankfully -- lacks "cute" characters. It's certainly better than "Conan the Destroyer" and leagues better than "Red Sonja" and (rolling my eyes) "Kull the Conqueror."
GRADE: Visually and action-wise, this is a Grade A adaption of Conan all the way, but storywise I'd give it a C+ or B-, even though it has a couple glimpses of greatness. Overall Grade: B