I have not seen Conan the Barbarian, but I found that its sequel, Conan the Destroyer, is on Netflix. With nothing to do and a sleeping baby on my chest, I decided to give it a go, and I’m glad I did.
Destroyer is pure adventure and it knows it. Right from the beginning, the narrator who chronicles Conan’s adventures sets the story up in , “the days of high adventure.” What that means is paper-thin characters and non-stop, almost meaningless action, which the movie deals out unapologetically.
Arnie is, of course, the titular Conan and Wilt Chamberlin plays Bombaata, a warrior of the Queen of Shadizar. Like any great adventure story, there’s a wizard, Akiro, a beautiful princess, Jehnna, Zula the Amazonian warrior and a thief/comic relief named Malak. The whole thing feels like a nineties RPG. There are even a couple of scenes where Conan has to find the boss’s weakness in order to win – very video game-like.
And the locations! I feel that whoever was in charge of finding the places to shoot should get an award. Intrusive boulders rounded by weathering, volcanic rock beaten into fine grains, fissile clays that had a tuff-like appearance – Destroyer has it all. A feast for the geological eye. Conan also punched a horse in the face in the first scene! Awesome…
Skimpy costumes abounded in the world of Conan. Not in a slutty way, but more like a man’s fantasy of what fantasy should look like. Even Conan himself could not escape the barbarian equivalent of Daisy Dukes. Surprisingly, Wilt Chamberlin was more fully robed in the movie than he ever was in his basketball career.
The plot is below average and the character arcs are non-existent, but the movie knows what it is, and does not try to deceive the audience into thinking it is anything more than pure adventure. At one point, I was hoping for some sort of character development between Conan and Bombaata as they fought, but I should’ve known better than to expect that. Bombaata is killed ignominiously and Conan moves on to fight the monster-god in the final scene.
Destroyer delivers scene after scene of action and fantasy, which made it highly enjoyable, but the style of storytelling speaks of a bygone era. Stories like these are of a time in speculative fiction’s history when plot and character took a backseat to action and setting. Readers of the genre have evolved and look at this style with a wry smile and a playful shake of the head. Readers are smarter and more attuned to the drama that develops between characters, rather than the action that results from good versus evil. In fact, with books like The Black Company and The First Law series, traditional definitions of good and evil have been profoundly questioned. The drum of speculative fiction is marching to a new beat, and characters like Conan are now memorabilia.
I found that there is a remake of Conan also on Netflix, and I look forward to comparing the two.