Conan the Barbarian serves as both an origin story for its titular hero, as well as giving him one mission to go on while he’s at it. That mission involves rescuing a woman and enacting revenge upon the person who decided it would be a fun idea to kill everyone in his village when he was a boy. It’s just too bad that not all that much of this film is actually much fun to watch.
The origin story begins with Conan and his father sitting on a mountaintop, talking about life, and how the only thing that you can trust is your sword. That makes me question if you can trust the person who tells you that, unless of course they’re made of steel as well. Then, a bunch of people come and attack the village the Conan lives in, killing everyone but the children, who become enslaved instead. The only boy we see after that moment is Conan though, so I assumed that the other children all died of starvation, instead of being taken away and forced to do things that aren’t pushing a device around and around for years. Decide for yourself, but I will say that keeping a bunch of young boys around is just a little creepy.
Regardless, we watch the young Conan push the device called the “Wheel of Pain” for years. And then he magically transforms into the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger, something he should be thanking Crom, his god, for. He gets forced into becoming an arena fighter, and like you’d expect, he wins them all. He’s even given reading material and woman to occupy his time. That sounds like a pretty good life for a slave. Eventually, he’s freed for no reason, finds a sword a companion (Gerry Lopez), and decides to become a thief. Eventually, he finds another thief, a woman named Valeria (Sandahl Bergman), and they end up in a relationship because, well, why not? Oh, and he also winds up finding a wizard (Mako), who doesn’t really do much, but serves as our narrator.
So now that we’ve got a good idea of our cast, we need a story. Just watching muscular people going around stealing things wouldn’t make a good movie, would it? Well, maybe it would. Actually, that might have been more enjoyable than what we ended up with. However, director Oliver Stone didn’t think that was the case, so we get a plot. The group winds up getting captured, and are told that they must rescue a King’s daughter, who happens to have been captured by Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), the man who led the assault against Conan’s village. So, we get a castle siege movie for the final hour, with multiple reasons for Conan to kill people.
We don’t actually get as many action scenes as you’d expect. Or maybe it just didn’t feel that way, considering how long Conan the Barbarian drags on. This is a movie that lasts more than two hours, but had no excuse to go over 90 minutes. There’s a lot of scenes that made me question why they were included, and I often questioned why things took as long as they did to happen. I think I just don’t have the right vision of Conan as a character, but I just don’t see why someone like him would sneak around for five minutes before going into an action scene, since that part is inevitable anyway. Look at him! He shouldn’t be sneaking around, he should be charging headfirst into battle. We know that he’s the best warrior around, so he should just go finish the job.
When we get to action scenes, they weren’t all that impressive anyway. There’s one thing that Conan is missing, and that’s a little thing called “collision detection”, something that I deem important in action movies. See, when Conan swings a sword, you know that it won’t actually hit the other actor. But when you see it on-screen, you want it to feel like it’s hitting the other person, even if it isn’t actually. I can’t recall a single moment where it was convincing that swords were hitting flesh. The fight choreography was also pretty poor, and it felt like they were making up the action scenes as they went.
At this point in his career, Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have a large acting resume. While he had the body to play Conan, he seemed awkward no matter what he did. Delivering lines came across as weird, while even swinging a sword didn’t feel quite right. He often looked lost, and I’m unsure of how much direction he was given. Nobody else was much better, but since they weren’t on-screen as often, they weren’t as noticeable.
There just isn’t that much fun to be had with Conan the Barbarian. Since the action scenes aren’t well-made, and the plot is far too long, it’s often difficult to stay awake. I shouldn’t be bored while watching an action/adventure movie, but I was while watching this one. It probably should have ended up being solely about revenge, which might have made it better. I guess I have to disagree more with the choices made in its creation more than anything else, because it’s the decisions that end up harming it.
There’s also the fact that the world that Conan inhabits is far more interesting than he is. Conan is a lug, one with a questionable grasp of the English language, and whose thoughts involve lying with women or killing people. The world, on the other hand, contains magic, people who can turn into snakes, and a bunch of other cool things that I wanted to see more of. A mokumentary tour of this world would have been more fun than the movie we ended up getting.
In the end, I didn’t have much fun with Conan the Barbarian. The action scenes have no weight to them, the plot has far too much redundancies and tiresome moments, and Conan isn’t all that interesting of a person. I wanted more of the world, and less of Arnold Schwarzenegger looking awkward on-screen. It seemed like a lot of poor choices were made in this production, ones that made it too long and boring to be worth a watch. Conan is once asked “what is best in life?” Well, Conan, it’s not you.