We haven’t gotten a great fantasy movie in quite a while, and Conan doesn’t change that. It’s not a terrible film, as most other critics seem to want you to believe so far, but it also falls way short of the marks it set for itself.
Everything is a bit too fast. I think they were perhaps trying to fit too much story into this one film. The characters get very little time for development, and each situation flies by at immersion breaking speeds. Almost every step of the way I found myself thinking, “That should have taken a lot longer.”
The romantic sub-plot suffers from this speed issue particularly. There is no chance for the romance between the leads to develop at all before they are already rolling around in the hay together. She barely knew this guy, and didn’t really even seem to like him. I know lots of romances start out that way in action films, but this one was far from credible.
The acting is merely acceptable. Jason Momoa is not a bad actor, but it seems that his range is a bit limited. I’ve only ever seen him play barbarian type characters, and they all have roughly the same personality. He played Conan the same as Ronan Dax particularly, just with a sword instead of a gun. For all that, however, his range is still greater than Schwarzenegger.
Everybody else was on par with the exception of Rose McGowan as the young witch Marique. I know she can do better than this; her performance here was phoned in. Her deliveries were flat, and the opportunities to really draw this character out as the sycophantic nut-job were all missed. It’s like she really just didn’t care. Perhaps a bit ironically, the nearly unknown Ivana Staneva, who plays Young Marique in the opening scenes, really had it down. It’s too bad they couldn’t find a way to pull her performance through the entire film.
Usually, after a film like this I can say that at least the special effects and fight scenes were fun, but here I can’t even say that. Mostly, the cause is the lighting. Everything was very dark, and almost every element of costuming and set was some shade of brown. With no colors, no light, and no slow-motion, it was usually a lot of effort just to figure out what was happening. In addition, much of the violence was entirely gratuitous. I know that’s not a big surprise, but it’s an important point when the action is so tough to watch. If they’d have cut out a couple of the meaningless fights, and developed the characters a bit more instead, we could perhaps have gotten a good film.
If you’re really interested in Conan mythology, and want to see what a modern take looks like, I’m not going to try to dissuade you from checking this film out - it is, after all, a lot closer to the original Conan than the 1982 film, but if you’re looking for a sweet action film or a set of engaging characters, look elsewhere.
Conan the Barbarian is in theaters now in regular 2D or headache-inducing, post-production-crafted, "fake" 3D.