A cinematic reboot for the patron saint of 98-pound weaklings, Conan the Barbarian is both truer to the vision if its character's creator, Robert E. Howard, and more satisfyingly pulpy than John Milius' 1982 movie incarnation. Director Marcus Nispel, along with no fewer than three screenwriters, eschews the lugubrious mythmaking of that version in favor of Howard's less fussy nihilism -- "I live, I love, I slay ... I am content," Conan confides to a captive. After setting up its story with a flashback sequence, Conan proceeds with an inventively shocking cold open in which the fetal Conan is cut from his dying mother's womb on a battlefield. This sets the tone for what follows, because While Nispel never lets his movie become dull, it truly comes alive only when people are hacking other people to bits. The narrative picks up when the preteen lad (Leo Howard) sees his father (Ron Perlman) and entire village slaughtered by the army of Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), a googly-eyed loon in search of a supernatural mask said to bestow godhood. Years later, the grown-up-and-out Conan (Jason Momoa) seeks revenge, eventually teaming up with a proto-Greek nun (prissy Rachel Nichols) who figures into Zym's scheme. Conan suffers from third-act doldrums -- perhaps inevitable when B-movie material lands with an A-plus budget -- and CGI cartoonishness, but its 3-D effects are surprisingly subtle. Squeamish types may balk, but the gory cruelty on display here is faithful to the source material and deeply thrilling.
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