MAY 14, 2013 SCREENING: CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984)
Conan the Destroyer is the second and lesser of two Conan movies (there is technically a third film, the 2011 remake of Conan the Barbarian, but that movie was so bad that I shut it off after 20 minutes and won’t be reviewing it). Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the title character for the 1984 sequel, and we’re treated to much of the same type of adventures we saw in the first movie. It’s a fun and enjoyable little romp, but like most sequels, it suffers from diminishing returns.
One of the first aspects that is disappointing is that this movie doesn’t go into any of what happened during Conan’s reign as king, despite being teased about it and getting a glimpse of him as an old king in the first movie. Instead, it covers another adventure that Conan had, immediately following the events of the first movie. While that probably wasn’t what the audience had in mind when the first movie concluded, the story that this movie tells in compelling in its own right. It takes us on Conan’s journey to resurrect his beloved Valeria, who had died during the events of the first film.
A particular weak point for me was the casting in this film. The first film was criticizing for casting a then “body builder” in the title role, but as I noted in my review, Arnold was surrounded by numerous accomplished actors in Conan the Barbarian. While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mako reprise their roles for the sequel, many of the other actors seem to be gimmick casting. Grace Jones, basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, and Andre the Giant all have important roles in the sequel, along with then unknown (and 15 year old) actress Olivia d’Abo. They all do a decent job in their roles, but it lacks the serious acting gravitas found in the first movie.
On the plus side, the tone pretty much keeps in sync with the way the first film was setup (they’re both dark fantasies set in a fictional prehistoric world), and it flows very well if they’re watched back to back, despite having different directors. However, Conan the Destroyer was watered down to a PG rating and contains less violence than its predecessor, perhaps in an attempt to widen the film’s core audience. I suppose this could make Conan accessible to children, but given the type of serious and bleak setting that the films have, its an awkward choice.
The film does keep the audience interested throughout its 101 minute running time, and ends with a promise of further adventures that unfortunately never materialized (at the time of this writing in 2014, it appears they may indeed finally make a belated third Conan movie showing Schwarzenegger as King, and ignore the 2011 remake). Strangely enough, the “success” of this movie led to a quick followup with 1985’s Red Sonja. Schwarzenegger played a different character on paper, but it was essentially a bad ripoff of the Conan movies, and bombed. Red Sonja is perhaps deserving of the scathing reviews that it received. Conan the Destroyer, on the other hand, while not as strong as the first movie, is still a worthwhile project and I think the negative reviews that the movie received were too harsh.
Oddly enough, I usually stay away from this genre, and have little interesting in seeing Kevin Sorbo play those times of roles. In the case of Conan, however, its oddly compelling and I wish Arnold had been given more material that did the story justice.
** ½ out of ****