Conan the Barbarian provides a simple but effective movie of violence, gore, and scenery-chewing acting that will amuse you if you like that sort of thing, but annoy you if you prefer films with a bit of ambition.
The storyline is unashamedly straight-forward: we meet a young boy with a talent for violence living in a simple village, before an evil bad guy turns up looking for a magical item, and has his henchmen slaughter everyone. The rest of the movie sees the grown-up Conan finding his enemy again, meeting a girl, slaughtering his way through the henchmen, ending with the climatic showdown with the bad guy.
There's nothing wrong with a simple plot, provided the movie plays it well, and overall it works. Jason Momoa looks the part as Conan and chews out his gruff lines reasonably well, and the rest of the cast are fine. Ron Perlman is the standout cast member as the father of young Conan.
It's hard to discuss this movie without referencing either the original books of Robert E. Howard, or the 1982 movie starring Arnold Swartzenegger. This version claims to be closer to the books, and I think they've succeeded. However, many watchers won't have read the books, and I think the opening narration of the history of Cimmeria will leave some scratched heads, while Conan leading a band of pirates will get some bemused looks. The movie does a good job of distancing itself from the Arnie version, but I don't think Momoa can go down as the definitive Conan, not least because the script doesn't give him any really standout lines.
The bad guy and his henchmen deserve a special mention. There's a thin line between being distinctive and menacing, and being downright silly, or even camp. Here, Kalar Zym is seeking the power of an ancient group of necromancers, aided by his daughter and a bizarre bunch of henchmen who he subdued during his long search. The henchmen are very distinctive, and Conan faces each one in turn during his hunt, providing some good fight scenes. Kalar Zym is a generic bad guy, played as a typical scenery-chewing madman, but surprisingly gets some actual character development when we learn what set him off on this quest. However, his daughter Marique doesn't just cross the line, but hurdles it and keeps going. Her costumes are bizarre, including metal talons on one hand, and she hisses, sulks and camps her way through the movie. Luckily, the movie can carry one utterly mad character, and she certainly isn't boring to watch.
This movie is a 15 certificate, possibly because of a surprising number of topless women, but probably because of the absolute bucketloads of gore and blood. People don't just get stabbed, they are slashed, chopped, and hacked, with a twist of the sword in their guts for good measure. The fight scenes are very well done, and I'm glad they avoided taking the stylised 300 route, because there have been too many weak imitations of that movie. However, the editing seems too choppy in many places, no doubt aiming for a frantic style.
I particularly appreciated the design of the movie. For one thing, they've clearly avoiding using CGi for the sake of it, and have actually bothered to make some real sets. There is some CGi, the best use of which is in a fight scene with Conan vs. a horde of men summoned from the sands beneath his feet. The locations and cities are well designed, and help give a feel of a well-imagined fantasy world. The oddest item in the movie is that the bad guy had a ship being carried around by a herd of CGi elephants. I have no idea why, and every time I saw it I just had to chuckle. The movie generally looked good, though.
I'm giving this movie four stars because, for me, this was a fun movie with an iconic main character, and I enjoyed watching it. However, it has no ambition to be anything other than a simple swords-and-sorcery tale, and if you prefer your movies to have any sort of intelligence, plotting, or more than basic acting, I'd chop a few stars off that rating.