First, I would like to say I love Howard's stories. I also like the 82 film. So that this deviates from Howard a little (or a lot) isn't really a bother to me.
Now, before I get to the review I want to say to anyone out there studying film (like myself) to watch this movie. It will prove to you that no matter how much action, blood or one liners you squeeze into a movie, if the story and characterization are missing you don't have a movie.
Without ANY disrespect, I would urge Mr. Nispel to do a film course, as he clearly needs to learn story telling at its most basic. This is not an insult, this is advice, because I believe once he has a better grasp on it, he will make a fine film maker.
Conan the Barbarian is a summer movie. Sadly this also has become synonymous with stupid, bad movies. And this film doesn't escape that. Clearly this film had a lot of trouble, by the looks of it at the conceptual stage. The fact the Sean Hood had to rewrite on set proves the material they had to work with was a disaster, and it shows.
Donelley and Oppenheimer (forgive my spelling) did a poor job on the script, if, what was shown in the final cut was more or less what they wrote. Mr. Hood's rewrites I heard were quite well received, but I also hear they cut most of what he wrote out of the cinematic cut...
This film, cursed with a poor script fails at even just an entertainment level. Sure, there is lots of action and fighting, but there is no emotion behind it. I was actually bored half way through of the fighting and wanted some damn character scenes, of which there are none of note. And that is another problem, after the first act (young Conan) nobody has any character. They walk around, kill or die and that is all. Their motivations are given to us in a single line and that is all.
The cast were good, but they had nothing to work with. The directing was inconsistent, the mood was all over the place, at times it smelt of a less fun Scorpion King with Artus and Elan-sha (I know I got those names wrong) being out of place "comic relief". Stephen Lang, as usual is good, but again, he has nothing to work with, so he stands and acts mean a lot.
The one thing that really took me out of the world of the film, is the dialogue. Which lacks any sort of finesse, culture, period etc. It sounds like modern speech... which is one thing it shouldn't sound like. Imagine watching a Western where they all talk in modern American slang, that is what this dialogue felt like. It was dialogue you write in your first draft, then go back over and make it good...though it seems no one did in Conan.
The film looked nice, I'll give it that. Some scenes were too bright and conflicted with the mood, but again, the mood changed as often as it would in an angst ridden teenager. The CGI wasn't bad, it wasn't great but it was serviceable.
The Dweller scene was pathetic. There was no choreography, set up to it, Momoa literally stood in one spot for most of it and did just ducked around a lot. Clearly a complete failure in the directing department for this scene which had no climax.
Costume and wardrobe design was impressive. Lang's armour and get up were nice, McGowan looked sexy in a freaky kind of way. So visually it almost always worked.
Overall, I suggest seeing it if you are curious, it isn't the worst thing to happen to cinema by a long shot. But, with no story, at least none that is told in a coherent way, no character development or motivation and no sense of culture or the world the characters (caricatures) inhabit it not only fails as a Conan movie, it fails as a movie. It fails as a coherent story told with moving pictures, it breaks the very foundation of cinema's rules. It cannot engage an audience, because there is nothing for us to care about. As a video game, this would kick arse. As a movie, it falls on it.