Although Conan the Barbarian existed in novels and comic books for decades before John Milius’ 1982 film take on the character, the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the savage, shirtless inhabitant of the mystical land of Hyboria is the one that dominates pop culture, and the one that the new Conan the Barbarian movie has to live up to. Director Marcus Nispel and the movie’s three screenwriters don’t directly copy the style or story of Milius’ film, but they don’t exactly stay faithful to creator Robert E. Howard’s source material, either. Instead the new Conan is a mix of action-movie clichés with various details of the character’s previous incarnations, mashed together in a mostly nonsensical plot that exists solely to bridge the gaps between stabbings and beatings.
Star Jason Momoa made a strong impression as Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones recently, but there’s none of that show’s complex, sprawling approach to the sword-and-sorcery genre on display here. Conan gets a simple motive of revenge to go after villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who’s naturally trying to assemble a mystical doodad that will allow him to rule the world. He and his evil sorceress daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, effectively creepy) must capture the innocent maiden Tamara (Rachel Nichols) to complete their nefarious plan, so Conan grudgingly agrees to protect (and, of course, have sex with) the young woman.
Nispel previously helmed loud, slick and incoherent remakes of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he similarly bulldozes over the material here. The extremely violent fight scenes are mostly muddled and confusing, made murkier by the addition of lame 3D, and the dialogue lacks even the cheesy pulp quotability of Milius’ version. The ferocity that Momoa exhibited on Game of Thrones is lacking here, and his Conan comes off as a bland model playing dress-up. Schwarzenegger may not have been a good actor, but he at least made an impression. Thanks to its punishing, empty intensity, the only impression this new movie is likely to leave you with is a headache.