(On TV, April 2017) While a let-down from the original barbarian epic, Conan the Destroyer does have a few things going for it. It embraces a more team-oriented plot than the first film, bringing a bit of diversity to the adventure while decently presenting a kind of quest fantasy Dungeons-and-Dragons dynamic on-screen. Arnold Schwarzenegger remains the anchor of the cast, but nearly everyone gets a good moment to play or two—Wilt Chamberlain and Andre the Giant show up, Olivia D’Abo is cute as the nominal love interest, but Grace Jones is a special effect of her own even if her acting talents are, well, not up to even Arnold’s standards. Much of the plot is a loose succession of adventures, reinforcing the impression of seeing a quest story on-screen. Lighter on the violence, heavier on humour, Conan the Destroyer may be a bit more accessible even if it loses much of what had made such an impression during the first film. Still, much as the first film remains noteworthy for being an almost-definitive adaptation of barbarian fantasy on-screen, this sequel gets a lot of things right in portraying classical group quest fantasy as well. It doesn’t quite have as much wit as it should, but that’s how sequels go.
(On Cable TV, April 2017) Conan the Barbarian isn’t a great movie, but it does manages to achieve almost everything it aims for and still stands as one of the best movie adaptation of the classic barbarian fantasy subgenre. Arnold Schwarzenegger brings his considerable charisma to the title role—looking like he came from a Frazetta painting could have been enough, but he happens to be immensely compelling even with his limitations as an actor at the time. The film does take a while to get going: aside from the interminable prologues, it takes time until the band of adventurers is assembled and for the film to find its groove. After that, well, it’s straight-up fantasy escapism. While juvenile, there’s a certain honesty to the way the story strips itself down to id-driven violence and ravishing. My interest in barbarian fantasy being limited, I could only appreciate the success of the execution (and there has been quite a bit worse in that sub-genre) without being particularly moved. So it goes—I’m just glad, on some level, that the ultimate barbarian fantasy movie exists … and that it still stands as the definitive one thirty-five years later. (No, the remake doesn’t count.)