Movie Review: Conan The Barbarian

Sometimes, you are low on energy. Sometimes, there’s nothing else to do but relax with an old and simple piece of entertainment. Sometimes, it’s time for the most awesome fantasy movie ever made.

Mistake not my words. I did not say best. For coherence, aesthetic pleasure, good acting, and many other things, there are better films. Sometimes many. But to fill you with a sense of awe at what’s happening, and leave you cackling? If Conan has only one quality, it is being entertaining in the most 80s of ways, and that point could end the review right here. But I have started so by Crom I will finish.

This movie is two hours and nine minutes of gratuitous nudity and violence, separated by brief intervals of a plot so skimpy the characters could wear it as clothing that stop us from getting too excited. Some might quibble that this lacks the depth of R.E. Howard’s creation (although, let’s be real, sometimes Two Gun Bob gave us depth, and sometimes he gave us exactly that). It’s a fair point this is a less than faithful adaptation but, even as an adaptation snob, this is awesome in its own right.

While there is a lot of silliness, some parts of the movie hold up just fine and stop things from feeling risible. The sets look great, nailing the otherworldly barbaric vibe the movie is shooting for. Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack will be the part of the movie that lives longest if there’s any justice. And while the story isn’t much, a lot of the main emotional beats work. Conan realising he’s dealing with something related to the death of his parents feels real. Conan’s and Valeria’s passion for each other is their respective actors’ (Schwarznegger and Bergman) finest part of the film.

And some things don’t work, awesome as it is. Most of the philosophical underpinnings – the mix of Nietzsche and Idealised Barbarianism – don’t really add something, although at least John Milius and Oliver Stone didn’t try to make too big a deal of it. James Earl Jones could have been a more terrifying villain – I will get some heat for that but cool as Thulsa Doom is in many ways, he’s not really given any killer lines or cool actions of his own.

But it all comes together. If you are watching Conan the Barbarian, you are not here for the finer details of acting and storytelling. You are here to watch a man turn snakes into arrows. You are here to watch Arnold Schwarznegger fight Motorhead’s roadies, and kill one with a Rube Goldberg machine because why not. You’re here to watch him have sex with a witch, then she turns on him, so he throws into a fire. he cleans rust off a sword by hitting it against a stone. He knocks out a camel because I have no idea why.

By whatever happy accident, Conan the Barbarian lands in a happy spot of ludicrous thrillfest yet darkly human. And as an awesome way to spend a tired evening, it is indeed awesome.

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