In the deep-misted past of the Hyborian age, after the sea had swallowed Atlantis but before the …
Oh, who are we kidding. There's this barbarian named Conan, see? He's a big dude. More muscles than the entire Plugged In staff combined (though, truth be told, that's not a huge accomplishment). But before that, he's this barbarian kid living in this barbarian village. Only the entire village—including his big-bearded barbarian father—is slaughtered by some evil king (Khalar Zym) and his ugly henchmen. Conan feels bad and stuff.
Anyway, he grows up and starts killing. Most of the time after he strips off his shirt. And sometimes, if there's no one really around to kill, he goes to a tavern to drink, cavort with topless women and arm wrestle with his best friend.
But Conan still feels kinda bad and vengeful about his whole village being slaughtered, so while he's killing he's looking around for the evil king who was responsible. And then one day he learns that the king (who, I must remind you, is evil) is trying to control the world with a magic mask with which he hopes to resurrect his dead wife. But to get the mask to work, he needs, like, the blood of this girl named Tamara, who's a direct descendant from the folks who made the mask in the first place.
Simple so far, right?
Well, when Conan runs into Tamara, he puts two and two together (without even the benefit of an associate degree from his local barbarian university) and figures that if Tamara's with him, eventually Khalar will show up to collect her.
He does. And Conan immediately invites him to go to counseling together and work out their conflicted pasts and maybe have a good cry about everything. Then they can go to the game afterward—
Oh, forgive me. Conan is a fantasy, but it's not that fantastical. No, Conan plans to kill Khalar, of course. Unless Khalar (did I mention he's evil?) kills him first. Or both kill each other simultaneously. Or something.
Barbarians aren't into ostentatious emotion. But young Conan and his pops, Corin, seem to get along pretty well. Corin takes the trouble to train Conan to be the best killing barbarian he can be, after all—and if that doesn't show a father's love, what does? When Corin gets captured by Khalar and his men, little Conan does his best to save him—risking his own life in the process.
Eventually, both are trapped in the same burning hut, with Corin strung up by chains connected to a big pot of molten metal hanging over his head. Conan tries to keep the metal from spilling on his father, but Corin will have none of that sort of helpfulness. Instead, he (quite literally) steels himself for death—dumping the fiery mess all over himself. Awful, sure. But if he hadn't done it, the boy would've just stayed in there, protecting Corin as long as he could, until both of them died. And that wouldn't have done anyone any good.
Conan can't shake off his saving streak, though. Later he makes it a priority to rescue Tamara when Khalar kidnaps her.
In non-Hollywood Conan lore, the Cimmerian barbarians worshiped a god named Crom. But his name is mentioned just once onscreen since this particular incarnation of Cimmerians actually seem more prone to agnosticism. Khalar says that the barbarians do not pray, and that the community building he stands in "is their church."
Conan is particularly nonplussed by religion. When Tamara asks him whether he feels like he's a tool for the gods, Conan says, "I know not and I care not. … I live, I love, I slay and I am content." And when Khalar slips through Conan's fingers, the barbarian's friend Ukafa tries to comfort him by saying how cruel the gods are. "Blast the gods," Conan blurts. "This was not their doing."
But for all that seething humanism, there's an awful lot of strange powers at play.
The mask Khalar wants was made by "cruel necromancers," and Khalar hopes to become a "god" by wearing it. It's said that if the mask is infused with the blood from the descendant of an ancient race, it comes to life and grants the wearer the power to raise the dead. Khalar wants to resurrect his witch wife, and he's determined to use Tamara's blood as the catalyst and her body as the witch's new container. Khalar's daughter is also a witch, and she's able to detect the mask's possible blood donors by tasting their hemoglobin. She apparently has the power to find hidden objects as well. And she and Khalar manage to conjure up a cadre of sand warriors using a bag full of coins and some special powder.
Tamara calls herself a monk and lives in a sort of monastery. The head of the monastery can make prophecies, dolling one out to Tamara when asked. He and his people were also responsible for killing Khalar's witch-wife, a fact he doesn't feel too bad about. "She deserved to burn," he tells Khalar.
Conan's is not a liberated age, it seems, and the first several women we see are one-time slaves who go around bare-breasted. Ukafa picks up a couple, quite literally.
Conan and Tamara share a sexually graphic interlude in which we see both of their naked bodies entwined and moving erotically.
Khalar's daughter, Marique, longs to take her mother's place by her father's side—and perhaps in his bed too. She strokes her father's chest suggestively and tells him that if the ceremony to bring Mother back doesn't work, she'd be more than happy to "help" him in any way he sees fit (kneeling before him in a position both suppliant and sensual).
"Marique," Khalar says, stroking her lips with his finger, "you are like your mother in so many ways. But you are not her," he finishes, pushing her away.
If I detailed all the outrageous violent instances that take place in Conan the Barbarian, you and I would be here until Hollywood came out with another remake. Merely summing things up may take a while:
Part of the deal with Conan is that he was "born to battle," and from what we see in the opening, that's not hyperbole. His pregnant mother—a warrior in her own right—is stabbed during a skirmish (and the camera goes into the womb to see Conan jostled about as blood seeps in). Her life ebbing away on the battlefield, she tells Corin that she wants to see her baby before she dies. So Corin puts his finger in her mouth (so she can bite on it when the pain comes) and cuts her open, pulling the baby out of her eviscerated abdomen. She names the boy Conan and promptly dies.
Young Conan—all of 12—starts his own killing career by slaughtering four outliers while on an unrelated training exercise. Each cut he makes with his knife (and there are lots of them) is accompanied by a spray of blood. He finishes one of the men off by bashing his head into a fallen tree (which perhaps explains why he only brings three heads back to the village, complete with bloody dripping stumps). When he tries to rescue his father, he winds up hacking a few more people to death and cutting off the nose of one of Khalar's main assistants. (We see the wound and the lump of flesh hit the ground.)
We've already discussed the molten metal madness which follows.
Later, Conan is taken prisoner by the man he made noseless, who busily tortures his prisoners with a horrific-looking thumbscrew-like device (only it's used on wrists). We watch a victim scream in pain. But Conan isn't about to put his wrists in that thing, so he slays a slew of guards (decapitating at least one) and tortures the torturer by sticking his finger deep into the man's gaping nose wound. (Gore spatters on the ground.) Before the scene wraps, Conan forces the noseless nuisance to swallow the key to the prisoners' shackles, carts him into the midst of the men he'd cuffed and tortured, hands the prisoners knives and tells them that the key to their freedom is in the guy's gut. The results are predictable.
Folks are speared with big shafts of wood and fall screaming to their deaths in pools of lava. A woman has her arm broken off before dying in horrible fashion. Bodies are catapulted through the air (which doesn't kill them, but the crunch when they land does). A gigantic octopus-like thing bites a man in half. Marique kills innocent maidens with long, metallic fingernails—slicing one across the gut, another through the face. Tamara looks particularly pleased with herself when she kills her first three soldiers. Khalar slams a man's head into the pavement repeatedly, turning it into a bloody, squishy monstrosity. He also makes a deep cut into someone's chest to fill his mask with blood.
Crude or Profane Language
If there's an upside to all the killing, it's that the characters have very little time left to swear. Still, one person interjects an s-word.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Conan and his buds drink in a tavern (run by an old woman surprisingly tolerant of mayhem). Conan forces the key down the noseless man's throat via lots of liquor. The monastery's headmaster tokes on a hookah.
Other Negative Elements
Conan cheats at arm wrestling. Slaves are ill-used. Conan (and others) treat women very disrespectfully: He ties up Tamara when she gets out of hand, calls her his "property" and stuffs a rag in her mouth to get her to stop talking.
Here at Plugged In we talk a lot about "gratuitous" content. Gratuitous sex. Gratuitous violence. Gratuitous language. We use the word often to refer to apparently meaningless and often repugnant add-ons—unfortunate supplements that seem to serve no purpose at all other than to attract a desensitized audience or give folks a cheap thrill.
Conan the Barbarian doesn't have gratuitous scenes. It is wholly gratuitous—from its pointless topless women to its pointless sprays of blood to its pointless 3-D engineering to its pointless plot and nonexistent morals.
The 1982 Conan the Barbarian, starring a then mostly unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger, was pretty gratuitous in its own right, and this remake seems doubly so. The whole affair seems built to just take up space in your local theater and, in true Conan style, literally lay waste to a couple hours of your time.
And a piece of your soul, while it's at it.
But that's just too depressing. So I'll take another tack: The famed philosopher René Descartes once famously said, "I think, therefore I am." Perhaps by that measure, this movie—requiring no apparent thought to make and no thought to see—is merely a figment of our collective imagination.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jason Momoa as Conan; Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym; Rachel Nichols as Tamara; Ron Perlman as Corin; Rose McGowan as Marique; Bob Sapp as Ukafa; Leo Howard as Young Conan
Marcus Nispel ( )
August 19, 2011
November 22, 2011