Film review | Conan the Barbarian – Hacked off! Jason Momoa steps into Arnie’s sandals but film slips up

Conan the Barbarian - Jason Momoa plays Ron E Howard's pulp hero

Game of Thrones hunk Jason Momoa brandishes a massive broadsword and flaunts even bigger pecs in the role Arnold Schwarzengger made famous three decades ago. How does he measure up in this Conan the Barbarian remake?

Dreamed up in the 1930s by pulp magazine writer Robert E Howard, Conan is the most basic of fantasy heroes, a muscle-bound slab of beefcake who can be summed up by his credo: ‘I live. I love. I slay… I am content.’ Yet even the most easily pleased devotees of sword-and-sorcery fare will surely feel short-changed by this mediocre adventure.

A mix of limb-lopping mayhem and mystical mumbo-jumbo, the story opens with the hero’s birth by Caesarian section – untimely ripped from his dying mother’s womb by his father’s sword in the midst of a battle. With this savage start in life, it’s hardly surprising that Conan should grow into a ferocious Barbarian nipper capable of dispatching a bunch of his tribe’s enemies with his bare hands and bringing their heads back home as trophies, as one does in Howard’s bloodthirsty Hyborian Age. Nevertheless, further tragedy befalls the plucky youngster (played by Leo Howard) when evil warlord Khalar Zym (Avatar’s Stephen Lang) destroys his village and murders his father (the ubiquitous Ron Perlman) while in pursuit of the magical, immortality-granting Mask of Acheron.

Conan the Barbarian - Rose McGowan

So far, so-so. Director Marcus Nispel, a man with reboots of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to his name, handles the early action with brutal efficiency, Perlman, even if he is coasting, lends his customary gravitas and Howard is impressively feisty. Unfortunately, the young Conan bulks up and develops into the strapping but sapless Momoa and the plot turns into a standard revenge quest. As Conan seeks Khalar Zym, Nispel substitutes sadistic carnage for coherent storytelling.

John Milius’s original 1981 film was no classic, but it did have Arnie in his pre-Terminator prime and offset the gory violence with a nice line in cheesy humour. Momoa has none of his predecessor’s charisma and his love interest, Rachel Nichols’ temple priestess, is equally bland. Far more striking is Rose McGowan as the warlord’s witchy Goth-punk daughter, who sports ghost-white skin, bright-red lips and lethally sharp metal nails that would excite the envy of Freddy Krueger. Remove her from the fray, though, and Conan the Barbarian is left looking pretty vapid.

On general release from 24th August.

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