Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

The remake of Conan the Barbarian was released in 2011 and received less than stellar reviews. To be honest, the critics were pretty spot on too. This movie is very flawed and it was definitely not the remake that many of us wished it to be. That said I wanted to give the movie a second watch to see if it was really as bad the second time around. None of the flaws disappeared but I found I was still entertained and there were some things I liked about the film.

Jason Momoa was an excellent choice to play Conan but after seeing the movie twice I think he was working with a… limited script. He has the physique and the skills to portray the “panther-like Conan” and those of us who have seen him in Games of Thrones and Stargate: Atlantis know he has the acting chops to play a fierce warrior who is both intelligent and cunning. It is a shame “intelligent and cunning” were not written into the script anywhere. Those of us who have read the Conan stories know he fights with a ferocity barely matched anywhere in literature but he is also very intelligent. He appreciates fine art and culture. He uses his mind in battle as much as his brawn. He is an incredibly well developed character but Hollywood doesn’t seem to want to embrace that side of Conan. On the flip side they are more than happy to indulge the male chauvinistic side of the character which is the one aspect of Conan we could do without.


Khalar Zym

Khalar Zym looks badass in the big climax of the movie.

Stephen Lang (Khalar Zym) and Rose McGowan (Marique) play an excellent pair of villains which is one of the more refreshing parts of the movie. For any action film to work the audience needs to both love and hate the leading villains. Fortunately this movie takes just enough time to explain why the villains were seeking the mask of Acheron as well as the last pure blood of Acheronian descent. The crew who worked on the movie also did an excellent job of making Zym and Marique look uniquely awesome in both costume as well as magic and choreography. After all, the hero is only as cool as the villain he or she vanquishes.

Ron Perlman. Nuff said.

Robert E. Howard corresponded quite often with H.P. Lovecraft and each influenced the work of the other in significant ways. While the point is still open for debate there are many scholars who consider Howard’s unedited works to be party of the Cthulhu Mythos. Marcus Nispel (director) tapped into these influences and the creepy elements which manifested in the film are most welcome to long time fans of Conan. The tentacled mask forged by the sorcerers of Acheron is a macguffin but it is a very creepy macguffin that writhes and clings to the wearer like a face hugger from Alien. The Dweller which appears later in the film alludes to the twisted cults which appear in the work of Howard and Lovecraft. These elements were noticeably missing from the first two Conan movies and I was very happy to see them reintroduced.


Ron Perlman as Conan’s father, Corin.

I give Conan the Barbarian (2011) 3 out of 5 stars. This movie is closer to Howard’s work but not nearly close enough. Maybe next time Hollywood will get it right.

Tips for Gamers

Villains Make Mistakes
The mistake Khalar Zym makes in this movie is a classic one. These days every villain knows when you wipe out the opposition you never leave their kids behind. The little ones tend to grow up and come back for revenge. In this case Young Conan (played by Leo Howard) is forced to watch his father die. The boy already had anger issues. Khalar Zym only added more fuel to the flame which is the perfect recipe for a protagonist to come back later on to shove a boot up his butt. It ranks right up there with the villain revealing their secret plan to the hero in an ill timed monologue. It’s cliche. It’s a trope. It also highlights a fundamental truth about great villains. They make mistakes and that is okay. These mistakes provide PCs with wiggle room in the story as well as on the battlefield through which players can work their will on the game. Not every move during combat will be tactically perfect. Not every decision completely nullifies the efforts of the PCs. Villains make mistakes.

Cthulhu Makes Things Better
When it comes to horror and the supernatural the Cthulhu mythos is the equivalent of bacon. Add a little bit to your recipe and odds are it will come out better than it was before. Geeks know Cthulhu. Adding bits and pieces of Cthulhu flavor will build ambiance in a game in a way that is easily identifiable to most gamers. A game master does not need to dive headlong into the works of Lovecraft to invoke the right horrors. For example, the tentacled mask sought by Khalar Zym and the Dweller which resides in the lower watery levels of his fortress are more than enough to set the tone. With just a few hints we know what kinds of dark power he is tempting. Players will too.