Allow me to preface this review by saying that while I love Basil Poledouris’ score to the 1982 Conan the Barbarian, as a fan of Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories; the film isn’t really a “Conan” movie. While elements are definitely inspired by parts of the Conan mythos, Arnold’s performance is about as far from Conan as you could possibly get. Where Howard describes Conan as “panther like” and actually a brilliant warrior and tactician, Arnold turned him into a brain-dead lumbering oaf. That’s not Conan.
Jason Momoa, fresh off playing another barbarian in Game of Thrones, IS Conan. He was obviously aware of the Howard descriptions of the character, and he brings to the screen the truest interpretation of Conan ever. The only complaint I have with him is that they should have either given him blue contacts or used CG to change the color of his eyes, as Howard describes Conan as having smoldering blue eyes. But aside from that; you have the articulate, intelligent Conan with panther-like reflexes and all the elements that made him a character that has endured for nearly 80 years.
Where the Arnold version of Conan did take inspiration from bits and pieces of some of Howard’s stories (but not specifically Conan stories), this one is very much residing in Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria. While both movies deal with Conan’s youth, this one does show his birth on the battlefield, and you could draw from the movie that his father was a blacksmith as in the stories. However in the Howard stories, Conan remains with his tribe until his mid-teens; the movie skips past his teenage years to Conan as an adult. That’s not a problem as specific Conan stories are actually mentioned in the movie.
Specifically the events in “The Tower of the Elephant” are talked about, and Conan’s time with the Pirates is mentioned along with some other smaller events from the stories. So while it’s an original story (more on that shortly), it exists within the established Conan canon sometime after Tower of the Elephant and his time as a pirate, but naturally a while before he takes the throne as king.
The story is really just an excuse for Conan to kill a whole bunch of people, and there is a lot of death. For a 112-minute movie, there are roughly 113 deaths in it. That’s a lot of carnage, and believe me there is no way this movie could ever have been PG-13. From the amount of blood, the gore (which even made me squirm once or twice), to the traditionally topless wenches Hyboria demands; this movie is a very “hard R” and Howard fans wouldn’t accept it any other way.
Since the story is relatively weak, you’ll want to get through the dialog as quickly as possible; and the movie does that. There aren’t many moments where it really slows down for long conversations. The action comes quick, often, and brutal in this movie. I should also mention that the soundtrack in no way compares to Basil Poledouris’ classic score from the 1982 film, but there’s no way it could ever possibly try to.
If you want to see the new Conan the Barbarian, go in prepared to not get Academy Award winning dialog or a story that will go down as legend. What you will get is the closest adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic Conan world with a near-perfect realization of the character by Jason Momoa on top of generous helpings of blood, gore, and nudity.