I didn’t think that not having seen “Conan the Barbarian” would put me at a disadvantage when I watched its sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” Surely any plot threads left over from the first film would be recapped for those of us just tuning in. And how much could there be to understand, really? Movies with important dialogue demanding careful attention usually star someone who can speak coherently, i.e., not Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But it turns out “Conan the Destoyer” is not self-explanatory. I was left with a number of questions that I can only assume would have been resolved if I’d seen the movie that came before it.
For example, there is Mr. The Barbarian himself, played by the smooth, oily, seal-like Schwarzenegger. When we first meet him in “C. the D.”, he has stolen a bunch of stuff from some merchants, who have now tracked him down demanding justice. They don’t wish to kill him, merely to capture him. Conan uses his sword to slay every last one of them. He even punches a horse at one point. Here I thought: Ah, how fascinating! Conan is the villain in this piece, not the hero! We are to witness the tale of a murdering, thieving, horse-punching psychopath, a fugitive from justice who will perpetrate mass slaughter to avoid facing the consequences of his actions!
Yet further examination of the film led me to conclude that Conan was in fact meant to be the hero, and that we were expected to applaud his actions. The titles are literal: he is barbaric, and he destroys things. These, evidently, are his GOOD qualities.
I can only assume that the first film explains all this.
Conan is accompanied by a wacky sidekick. His name is Malak (Tracey Walter). He is cowardly and lazy and sounds like Peter Lorre. He is more of a hindrance than a help to Conan, or at least he would be if it were possible to hinder Conan’s unquenchable thirst for bloodshed, which it is not. Presumably, “Conan the Barbarian” explained why Conan was forced to associate with this buffoon, whom he clearly doesn’t like and who offers him no assistance. Was it mandated by a judge known for his unusual sentencing practices? Is it the result of a wizard’s curse? Is Malak Conan’s brother-in-law, and Conan’s wife asked him to please give the guy a job? It must be one of those things. It is unlikely that Malak would otherwise be tolerated by Conan, especially given Conan’s fondness for murder.
The local sovereign, Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas), wants Conan to do some freelance work for her. As payment, she offers to bring Conan’s beloved Valeria back from the dead. Conan agrees that this would be a fantastic reward and agrees to take the job. He does not, however, bother to verify whether Queen Taramis actually possesses the ability to bring people back from the dead. Was there a sequence in “Conan the Barbarian” that explained how Conan came to be so stupid and gullible? A blow to the head? A chromosomal deficiency? The result of a wizard’s curse?
Anyway, if you were wondering whether this film set in ancient times would have a Chosen One, like all other films set in ancient times, the answer is yes. The prophecy is fulfilled. Queen Taramis’ niece, Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo), is the Chosen One, and she has to go on a journey to get a thing from a place. I don’t remember. It’s one of those deals that they keep calling a “key” even though it’s actually a diamond or something. Jehnna is the only one who can get it, it is her destiny, yada yada. Queen Taramis needs Conan to accompany the young lady to ensure her safety and keep the paparazzi away. The queen also sends the captain of her guard, Bombaata, to protect Princess Jehnna’s virginity, as the queen intends to sacrifice Jehnna when she returns, and the gods only accept virgins, on account of FDA regulations. Princess Jehnna, like most teenage girls, has no idea her aunt wants her dead.
By the way, Bombaata is portrayed by famed philanderer and part-time athlete Wilt Chamberlain. This was the only film he ever appeared in. Having him play a man charged with protecting a young lady’s virginity was probably an inside joke, like casting Mel Gibson as a rabbi.
So marble-mouthed dimwit Conan, irritating comic-relief Malak, promiscuous basketball player Bombaata, and naive virgin Jehnna set out on their quest. It’s like the beginning of a joke, one where the punchline is “Sorcerer? I never touched her!” In their travels, they come upon an old wizard named Akiro (played by veteran Japanese actor Mako), who is currently about to be killed by cannibals who think that they can gain his magic powers by eating him. Conan doesn’t necessarily dispute their reasoning, but he saves the wizard’s life anyway, because he’s an old friend, and because Conan doesn’t like it when people who aren’t Conan commit murder.
So now it’s the five of them heading to the place to get the thing, and along the way they pick up ANOTHER cast member. She’s a fierce lady-warrior named Zula, played by Grace Jones, the flat-topped, flat-chested, Wesley Snipes-ish model-singer who was responsible for making a lot of boys terrified of women in the 1980s. Zula becomes loyal to Conan after he saves her life (evidently Conan saves people’s lives as often as he takes them), and now the Fellowship of Getting the Thing from the Place includes six people. They pile into Fozzie Bear’s Studebaker and sing “Movin’ Right Along,” unless I am thinking of another movie.
The thing that’s called a “key” but isn’t a key is located in a magic castle that’s guarded by a magic wizard whose face is half-melted, magically. Melty the wizard has a devious plan to kidnap Jehnna: wait until everyone else is asleep and then just take her. This proves to be remarkably easy. Conan and the others invade the castle to rescue Jehnna and retrieve the thing, and everyone else stands around and watches while Conan defeats the wizard. This sequence includes many, many shots where Conan’s leather-clad crotchular region is thrust directly at the camera, for the ladies.
Having successfully retrieved the thing from the place, the gang moves on to Phase 2 of the operation, which involves putting the thing in a different place and obtaining a second thing. Some kind of temple, I guess, guarded by priests who have been waiting for the Chosen One to come along and unlock whatever it is. It’s a horn, from a rhino or something. (Look, this isn’t my religion. I don’t have to know the particulars.) Once they get the horn, Bombaata grabs Princess Jehnna and races back to Queen Taramis, leaving Conan and the others to catch up and, now that they realize Jehnna is going to be sacrificed, try to stop Jehnna from being sacrificed. At last, some actual heroism for Conan to perform, after being played like a patsy for 90 minutes.
Turns out the reason Queen Taramis needed Princess Jehnna to retrieve these magic artifacts was so she could use them to awaken a demon-god named Dagoth. Show me a movie about wizards and guys with swords living in ancient times that DOESN’T involve awakening a demon-god, and I’ll show you a movie that does not exist. Awakening Dagoth is pretty easy; awakening him in a manner that does not result in the wholesale slaughter of your entire village is tricky. He’s a grumpy gus on being woken up, and the only thing that will appease him is killing a virgin. (Charlie Sheen is the same way.) But you gotta kill that virgin at the precise moment you wake him up, or else forget about it. If you were to wake him up and then, say, have your virgin sacrifice thwarted by a slick meathead in a loincloth, well, you’d have a very angry Dagoth on your hands. You’d probably then need that same musclebound clod to destroy Dagoth and save the world.
In the end, Conan the destroyer destroys more things than he preserves, so at least the film delivers what it advertises. I’m still perplexed as to how he got the way he is, and why anyone puts up with it, and why all these useless sidekicks are permitted to travel with him, and why he doesn’t wear pants. Maybe part three, “Conan the Mumbling Psychopath,” will explain it.