Conan the Barbarian was the very first R rated movie that I ever saw. I remember being at my redneck neighbor’s house and being informed that it was “kind of like He-Man.” He was sort of right- it is kind of like He-Man, except with nudity, blood, and way more awesomeness. I re-watched it tonight after over twenty years, and it holds up surprisingly well. In fact, I found it sort of incredible. I sat down expecting a cheesy movie where the governor of California tossed off one-liners and mowed down extras, and got a lot more than that. A few reasons why this movie is a masterpiece of sword-based cinema:
1: Conan, not to put too fine a point on it, has a dick.
A trope of fantasy movies and literature that I absolutely detest is that the main characters win by simply being “pure at heart” or “chosen.” What bullshit. What utter tripe. I’m not pure at heart, and neither are you. Fortunately, Conan avoids this idiotic trope, though, and we get to see plenty of the titular character and his friends having sex, drinking, buying drugs, stealing stuff, stabbing the bad guys in the back, and in general enjoying themselves. (I hate to say it, but as much as I love LotR, you’ve got to admit that Frodo and Co. really don’t have much in the way of gonads. It’s like they have glowing sacks of goodness instead of balls.)
And think about this- how many times have you seen the heroes of fiction show mercy, but then have the bad guys betray them? For that matter, villains often fall victim to their own villainy and arrogance rather than to the efforts of the heroes. None of that in Conan– there is no unwarranted mercy, and the heroes triumph not because they are good or pure, but because they are strong, smart, and willing to strategically decapitate dudes when the opportunity arises. That is something so absent from popular fiction, that I actually said “Fuck yeah!” a couple of times when Arnie and friends mercilessly mowed down the evil snake cultists.
Speaking of snake cultists…
2: James Earl Jones is fucking awesome as the bad guy.
There are plenty of bad guys out there who seem to be evil just for the sake of plot. They swish around sinisterly, wring their hands with badness, and in general remain fairly undeveloped. Not so with James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom. Jones is a charismatic cult leader, seeing him in action one can actually see how he’d be able to attract followers and keep a large organization going and growing.
Moreover, he has an awesome suit of armor and a sexy, sexy voice. And speaking of sexy…
3: Valeria is a badass.
I wouldn’t say that Conan is a feminist movie by any stretch of the imagination, but Valeria holds her own in the movie. She is, most assuredly, not detestable little femme-flower. She’s a competent killing machine who happens to have breasts. I can get behind that. Conan’s two other compatriots, a thief and a wizard, are also quite neat, enough to make any D&D enthusiast smile.
So, yeah. I liked the movie so much that now, as I’m blogging about it, I’m listening to Motorhead and grooving on the awesome slayage that is Conan. Apparently there is a remake coming out next year. I am very cautiously optimistic.