Ancient hero Conan leads a curious band of warriors and thieves to rescue a princess held prisoner by a sorcerer on an island in a chamber of mirrors. But it soon becomes clear the whole thing is a set-up by the evil Queen Taramis, who plots to resurrect a terrible monstrosity.
While no one was really expecting the brute philosophy of John Millius’ original Conan adventure — still one of the most stirring fantasy movies about — we still expected more from veteran director Richard Fleischer (who’d lent a fleet footed, visionary thrill to Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) than this by-rote swords and sorcery twaddle. Riddled with the usual genre clichés — rescue the princess, defeat the evil sorcerer (ever known any good ones?), quell the rubbery beast — it’s 101 muscularity, watchable in a guiltily lowbrow kind of way, but entirely devoid of Millius’ brimstone, Nietzschean gusto.
Arnie, still keeping distance from the script, still looks the part. His walnut body is so exaggerated he feels meta-human, a distortion of what we consider even heroic, and teaming him up with Grace Jones, as an Amazonian spear carrier, lends the film an extraordinary, if hilarious, sense of the body brutal. Elsewhere in his ragtag gang conjoined to rescue Olivia D’Abo’s rather bland princess of blonde hair and squeaky voice, is former basketball star Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, and Mako, who returns from the first film as the irascible nearly-wizard Akiro.
And where Milius sensibly restrained the temptation to give in to the outright supernatural, Fleischer throws himself in wholesale. A big risk when your budget is snared by locations and the growing stature of the main man. Thus when evil queen (ever know any good ones?) Taramis (Sarah Douglas, who does have the perfect physiognomy for such a role: oversized eyes bulging over pointed cheekbones) plans to resurrect big, green, be-horned god Dagoth (name department on a go slow?) we are sure to discover there’s a man in an unconvincing rubber suit (actually Pat Roach) ready to play pull the sinew with Conan the Inexpressive. Still, credibility has long since departed the ancient land of Cimmeria, with the transformation of sorcerer Toth Amon into a kind of walking frog (actually Pat Roach).
Elsewhere, Fleischer does well with locations, poorly with sets, and dreadfully with script. Robert E. Howard aficionados pretend it never happened.
Arnie still swings that sword with aplomb, but with a story this ludicrous, he's on slippery ground.