Burly Barbarian Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent to rescue the niece (Olivia d’Abo) of Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) with the promise of his lost love being returned to him. He’s joined by Akiro the Wizard (Mako Iwamatsu) and the camel from the first film and a group of new, equally irrelevant characters (Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracey Walter).
1982’s Conan the Barbarian looks dated in many ways, but it does has an impressive scale, whereas Destroyer, made two years later, has a straight-to-TV appearance which makes its predecessor look like Gladiator. For every passable matte painting there’s one that looks like scenery from a high school production of The Wizard of Oz. But it also packs in so much bad acting, direction, lighting, costume design and storytelling that it makes you wonder if Schwarzenegger had decided he wasn’t keen on the sword and sorcery genre by this point and used his clout to undermine the production on purpose to get out of his multi-film contract.
Arnie is at peak gormless as the medieval meat-head, giving an impressive physical performance with swordplay and horse riding which doesn’t extend to moving his facial muscles. The gravitas brought by James Earl Jones as everyone’s favourite snake cult leader is sorely missing, meaning this film is Thulsa Doomed from the start, with new villains who fail to bring the goods. It’s clear 15-year-old d’Abo is learning on the job and the one member of the swollen band of supporting characters to truly commit is the criminally under-used Grace Jones.
The script has only occasional dialogue, perhaps to make for easy export, but this comes at the expense of understanding what’s happening in the meandering story which is peppered with revelations from magic scrolls we’re told nothing about. What dialogue there is sounds like it’s from the practice level of a 90s video game and lines like “into the boat”, “into the tunnel” and “it’s the leader – he’s a wizard!” will make you want to shout “out of the cinema”. Boasting more Arnold Schwarzenegger “aarghs” than any other film the best you can say about this comic book adaptation is that it’s comically bad, and it’s clear the only thing this Conan can destroy is his own franchise.
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