With Conan the Barbarian being a success, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow. And while Conan the Destroyer has its good moments, it doesn’t quite compare with its predecessor.
The warrior that is Conan(Arnold Schwarzenegger) is still alive and mourning the death of his lover Valeria. He is now joined by clumsy Malak(Tracey Walter), a thief who can’t help but get himself in trouble because of his magpie like love of jewels. He comes across the mysterious Queen Taramis(Sarah Douglas)who offers him a deal. She will using her magical powers being back the love of his life on one condition. Conan must escort her niece, the naive and virginal Princess Jehnna(Olivia d’Abo) , to retrieve a magical gem that will lead the way to the horn of an ancient God. Jehnna must do this as it is her destiny and Queen Taramis insists on it. What no one realises is that the ruthless and sly Taramis is in fact plotting to sacrifice Jehnna in order to use the power of the horn for nefarious purposes. She assigns her trusted Captain of the guard Bombaata(Wilt Chamberlain) to join the quest, but kill Conan once the jewel is obtained. So Conan, Malak and the rest of the venturing group begin their journey to find the fabled jewel. Along the way, Conan frees a fighter called Zula; who he finds being tormented and forced to scrap in chains with brutal villagers. As thanks for setting her free, the feral Zula joins Conan’s quest and proves to be a vital ally. The quest is perilous and fraught with danger, especially when Conan uncovers the deceit at the heart of it. Now it’s a battle to stop the evil power of Taramis from taking over.
In the directors seat this time is Richard Fleischer, who at least manages to make this film watchable and reasonably entertaining. Although the tonal shifts are all over the place, Fleischer is at his best with the action scenes and danger, which does help in the long run. While no one would consider the first Conan movie high art, it at least had some form of grit to it. I’m fine with incorporating humour into films but it feels a bit much in Conan the Destroyer. It starts pretty well with humour and action benefiting each other. Then things go south as idiotic occurrences happen and mount up. The first film had some humour but it was controlled and it felt a little more brutal than your average fantasy outing. It wasn’t deadbeat drama throughout, but it at least had some sense of stakes being high. Conan the Destroyer seems to forget this and just chuck things at us in ridiculously rapid speed. Yes I did say that the first film was overstretched with its runtime, but this sequel is too quick and rushed. And events feel a bit watered down and not as brutal as before, which does hamper events in this movie as it feels a bit too light and humorous. I believe behind the scenes there was a conscious decision to tone down the gore in order to increase box office takings, I think they still could have been successful even with more bloodshed and brutality on show. Now things aren’t all bad in Conan the Destroyer, there are actually moments of greatness to be discovered. I’ll admit sometimes the goofy atmosphere is fun and once again the set pieces are rather fantastic. One in a hall of mirrors is very well executed, thanks to sterling production design and action present. This movie is most enjoyable when it’s serving up action and fantasy, instead of trying to make the film more child friendly.The score doesn’t let the audience down, providing boundless adventure and majesty to the film courtesy of Basil Poledouris. It’s again a highlight for how it immerses us in this fantasy world.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is once again an imposing presence as the titular fighter on another quest. He gets the and when the humour lands , he succeeds while still casting a long shadow of skill in the fighting department. Though it is very strange to hear Schwarzenegger talk as much as he does. Previously, he only speaks a number of lines which adds to his impact as we are more focused on his actions. Though this is a niggle, Schwarzenegger is still an amazing Conan and delivers the goods you want. Grace Jones, of striking bone structure, agile yet rippling physique and high top fade hairstyle, acts as a great asset to Conan and the movie. Her very stare projects a menace and aggression of a warrior, complete with the fact that she’s always on the prowl. Jones lends her unique look, wild abandon and electric being to Conan the Destroyer and lights up the screen every time she’s on it. Wilt Chamberlain, who was a basketball player of immense height, has the physical goods to deliver a slippery turn as the wavering Captain who you just know is going to stab you in the back if you’re not careful. Tracey Walter is passable enough as Conan’s latest sidekick, though his clumsy antics get a bit repetitive as the film continues. More effective is Mako, returning as the wise and all seeing wizard who balances seriousness with some levity. However Olivia d’Abo is pretty grating and irritating as the innocent princess, mainly because she’s so naive and the character is pretty bland to begin with. This isn’t helped by her delivery of lines which is stilted and without resonance. I get that she’s supposed to be sheltered and immature, but she mainly comes off as a pain. Sarah Douglas does villain shtick very well while being darkly seductive at the same time.
Conan the Destroyer has bright spots to it and has a fun, goofy quality, it just feels rather redundant and watered down when it could have been better
Based on the character in pulp comics and featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger in an early role that put him on the map just before he hit superstardom , Conan the Barbarian is nothing if not a dazzling, testosterone filled action-adventure fantasy that has its share of problems but is still riotously entertaining and a fun ride to experience.
In Ancient times, a young boy by the name of Conan is the son of a blacksmith and a loving mother. Unfortunately, brutality strikes when the followers of the evil cult leader Thulsa Doom( James Earl Jones) attack his village. His father is wounded and then mauled to death by dogs, while Doom himself hypnotises Conan’s mother before beheading her in front of her terrified son. Doom then takes a powerful sword owned by Conan’s father before leaving the carnage in his wake. The children of the village are spared and sold into slavery, being charged with pushing a giant wheel in back breaking fashion. Over the years of pushing the wheel, Conan( now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a muscle bound mountain of a man with incredible strength. He becomes a gladiator of immense renown and is taught many things by his master. Later he is set free into the wild, which is where he starts trying to track down Thulsa Doom, where he discovers an ancient sword, a strange prophecy and encounters three important people in his quest . Firstly he meets thief and archer Subotai(Gerry Lopez) , then he encounters beautiful and lethal bandit Valeria(Sandahl Bergman). Lastly there is Akiro the Wizard(Mako), who provides the narration for the film. Valeria and Subotai are soon faithful friends and in the case of Valeria, a romantic interest who assist Conan on his journey, while Akiro instils wisdom and prophecy. The trio of wonderers hear of a jewel that they decide to steal, mainly because the snake symbol is something that Conan believes will lead him to his nemesis. They are then summoned by the old King Osric( Max Von Sydow), who knows they stole the jewel but doesn’t wish to imprison them, he actually wants their help. His daughter has fell under the influence of Thulsa Doom and he wants Conan and his friends to retrieve her for a good reward. They decide to accept this offer as Conan continues on his path of vengeance hoping to meet Doom and enact brutality upon him as retribution for what he did to his family.
John Milius and his work here are the definition of macho and it’s perfectly suited to this kind of film. He’s the well appointed director of Conan the Barbarian and he keeps events ticking over, even when it gets a bit laboured and indulgent towards the end. got what you want from a swords and sorcery; lots of violent action( standout being the opening raid on Conan’s childhood village), unusual fantasy, well muscled heroes and buxom ladies, alongside traps, tricks and magic. And it’s unapologetic and upfront about it too which is rather refreshing in that way, especially as the violence isn’t sugarcoated . The action set pieces are staged with verve and efficiency, making them very memorable as Conan fights his way across a desolate land. Now at two hours, Conan the Barbarian does feel a bit longwinded in the grand scheme of things and that is a flaw. But for the majority, the adventure, excitement and brutality of the movie is done to a high standard. You don’t need to invest intellect into the story as it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Though that, in my book at least, is not something that should be seen as a fault. Sometimes it’s great to go into a movie that takes you to another place and doesn’t require you to think about it deeply. And I for one don’t mind when a movie does that when it does it as well as Conan the Barbarian. Sure it’s not going to stimulate your mind in a sense of depth, but who can begrudge this swords and sorcery concoction that simply wants to thrill? Saying this however, it feels more rough and gritty than some fantasy and that does make it stand out a bit from the crowd. It’s not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination, but nor is it trying to be. So sit back and lap it up the best way you can with enjoyment in mind and thrills by the minute . The largely practical effects are decent for their time, though looking through modern eyes they look rather dated. Still at least the film isn’t overblown when it comes to effects, instead when they are used in scenes of the spirits healing but also attempting to snatch our hero away and a fireside vision by a seductive but lethal witch, they are impactful. And the look of Conan the Barbarian is one of its strongest aspects with the vast open spaces, mountainous terrain and creepy atmosphere of the opulent Snake Cult rendered with great detail. Things feel epic here and this contributes well in keeping the whole highly charged atmosphere alive. One of the finest elements of Conan the Barbarian is the stupendous score from Basil Poledouris. With thundering drums aplenty and a sweeping scope that benefits the action, it’s one score you won’t forget in a hurry.
Arnold Schwarzenegger heads proceedings as the eponymous warrior out for revenge and makes quite an impression. Physically, he is a hulking being that is intimidating and strong from the moment we see him and the fact he doesn’t speak a lot adds to this feeling of immense presence. Schwarzenegger isn’t known for being the finest actor out there, but his work here is an example of fantastic casting as he exudes strength, intense vengeance and physicality throughout. I can’t imagine anyone else filling the role of Conan quite as effectively as Schwarzenegger. Embodying an eerily menacing villainy, James Earl Jones is the ideal counterpart to our hero. He’s got such a chilling presence( mainly through that iconic voice)throughout that comes from his seeming calmness that belies inner psychopathic tendencies. Gerry Lopez provides some comic relief and sense of friendship as the skilled thief Subotai . He works well against with Schwarzenegger; the two of them being opposites physically but in terms of mindset definitely on the ball and understanding of each other. Ferocity and athleticism is provided by Sandahl Bergman with added doses of sex appeal to boot . Though not what you’d call the most versatile or nuanced performer, Bergman nonetheless contributes a physical charm and action to that can’t be denied . Mako and his off the wall appeal that is twinned with his impressive narration adds a layer of epic awesomeness to Conan the Barbarian. The only person who feels wasted is the great Max Von Sydow as the elderly king. Someone of his calibre should at least have been given more to work with, even if his role is small. Most of the acting isn’t what you’d call award worthy, but not is it trying to be. The cast is called upon to play these characters in a certain way and they each do what the film demands handsomely.
So aside from some flaws along the way, Conan the Barbarian still stands out as a fantastic spectacle of action and fantasy that is enjoyably full of action set pieces and sweeping spectacle.
I was saddened to read the news that director Michael Apted had passed away at the age of 79. He was a prolific director who turned his hand to many genres, from innovative documentary series to biopic and even a Bond movie. He will be missed, but his legacy of great movies is for all of us to enjoy.