Sword and sandals, vixens, Vandals…however, Conan the Barbarian is more than just Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a broadsword to baddies…it’s a bundle of thrills, stuffed to the brim with as many ancient myths as humanly possible.
At its heart, it’s a son avenging the death of his father, which we can trace back to Homeric times (Orestes) and all the way up to The Princess Bride (Inigo Montoya) or The Godfather 2 (Vito Corleone).
And when pops is killed, mom shepherds Conan away to safety like the Arthurian legend of Lancelot (and that’s just one of the innumerable Knights of the Round Table nods).
The culprits? A vicious army of black-clad cavalrymen who look like they’ve got horseshoes on top of their heads, led by the one, the only, floor-shaking CNN voice, James Earl Jones (sporting a ludicrous Planet of the Apes mullet-extension wig). He plays Thulsa Doom, a wham-bam villain name if there ever was one, which could easily double as a death metal act or a motorcycle stunt driver.
The village’s sons/daughters are sold into slavery, and Conan is put to work as a mill grinder (which accounts for his ridiculously pumped up physique. Queue the latest late-night infomercial fitness fad: Grain Mill Pushing DVDs?).
Conan grows up to become a gladiatorial warrior, besting all the competition in pit fighting clashes to the death.
After he’s accidentally released, he connects with a couple of thieves (Subothai and Valeria), turning Conan the Barbarian into a buddy pic. Together, they help our heroic strongman solve the mystery of exactly who the black-clad villains were who killed Conan’s father.
This involves a sinister snake cult and its white-shawled acolytes (and Egyptian myths aplenty) and lots of ass-kicking by Conan.
Co-written by of all people, Oliver Stone, Conan the Barbarian wears its heart on its jerkin arms, celebrating its pulp origins.
*** 1/2 (out of 5)
[Be sure to check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast for a discussion of Conan the Barbarian]