What is best in life?
This was the question posed in the 1982 iteration of Conan the Barbarian. The answer was that of a child’s wish on Christmas morning. To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. Isn’t that what everyone wants from Santa?
Though not a line explicitly in the movie, the question was implicitly posed in the 2011 update, though the answer was more simple this time. I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.
Conan the Barbarian was developed by legendary pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard, one of the forefathers of the sword and sorcery genre. The character first hit the pages in 1932 in Weird Tales magazine. Since then, the character has been adapted into films, TV shows, video games, books and much more. And he has been in published comics virtually nonstop since the early 1970s, including big runs at both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics. If it matters to you, President Barack Obama is an avid collector of the Conan comics. At least he’s got something cool to read while the US Government is shut down.
The 2011 film is completely unrelated to the previous Schwarzenegger outings. This is not so much a reboot as just a different interpretation of the source materials, one that is in some ways more faithful than previous films. And in others, much worse.
Like the original Howard stories, the 2011 Conan is over-the-top violent and filled with great sword and sorcery action. And Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame plays the titular character well in the context of this version of the film. On the other hand, the overall world and supporting characters are purely one dimensional. While that’s something that’s you’d expect from a movie like this, they’re pretty bad even by those standards. Even the 1982 Conan did a better job of developing rounded characters and that’s saying a lot for an 80’s Schwarzenegger flick.
At the end of Conan the Barbarian, the question of what’s next for the Barbarian is left open. The character has been around for more than 80 years, and is still being used in a number of mediums. There has long been talk of a third film in the Schwarzenegger franchise though that came to an end with his election win in California. A second film in the Momoa franchise was also hinted at but seemingly dropped. Instead, the next film will apparently be a direct sequel to the 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian, ignoring both the events of its existing 1984 sequel and those of the 2011 film.
The producers of this franchise could teach a master class in unnecessarily muddled continuity.
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In many ways, the 2011 film is exactly what it needs to be to be a Conan film, with big action and lots of violence being two key components. Just turn your mind off and try not to think about the story, lest you be trapped amongst the minefield of plot holes and clichés that stand as the bedrock of this film.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.