Conan the Destroyer: The Worst Sequel to a Great Movie

It’s Debate Day! This week we’re discussing the worst movie sequel of all time. To see Aaron’s juvenile and sophomoric rantings, click here: The Matrix Reloaded: The Worst Sequel to a Great Movie. To see the cool and right opinion, read on!

Usually we do a “best” thing for Debate Day. That was never the original plan, it’s just sorta how it worked out. We’ve done a few things where I hate something Aaron likes, or vice versa, but we’ve never done a “worst” post.

Until now.

This week we’re looking at worst movie sequels, which we define as the second movie in a franchise. It can be a second movie followed by several other sequels of varying quality. For example, The Land Before Time II would count, but The Land Before Time III-XIII would not.

Sorry Land Before Time XI: Invasion of the Tinysauruses.

Sorry Land Before Time XI: Invasion of the Tinysauruses.

A prequel is also off the table, but those are usually the third or fourth movie in a franchise anyway. Reboots and remakes are off the table too, even if they’re the second movie in a franchise. However, a sequel to a reboot, like Amazing Spider-Man 2, would count, but we’re judging sequels in relation to the first movie in the franchise, not just on their own (lack of) merit, and Amazing Spider-Man didn’t set the bar very high.

Yeah, we thought about the rules a lot.

So really that leaves us with crappy sequels to beloved first movies. One of my favorite movies ever is the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian, starring the governator himself back when he could barely speak English. It has a pulpy charm that captures the sparse, savage beauty of the original Robert E. Howard short stories perfectly, and also James Earl Jones turns into a snake. Despite being a ridiculous fantasy about a shirtless ubermensch warrior slaying cultists and snake-monsters, director John Milius knows just how far to push our suspension of disbelief. Basil Poledouris’ score is pretty bitchin’, too.

I saw the first movie in high school, but it wasn’t till college that I got around to watching the sequel, Conan the Destroyer. Some friends and I tracked it down one night to see just how bad it was. Oh, we’d heard the rumors of its unrelenting shittiness, but how bad could it really be with Arnold and Mako reprising their roles? The answer, as we soon discovered, was so, so terribad.

Don’t let the cool artwork fool you. This movie sucks.

Don’t let the cool artwork fool you. This movie sucks.

If this movie stood on its own in a vacuum, I could appreciate it as a dumb action/fantasy flick that you can drink and make fun of. But this movie purports to take place in the same universe as its excellent predecessor, which is just depressing when you think about all the ways the first one is better. The second movie screws up every Conanish element so thoroughly that I’m a little bit offended that it even exists.

First of all, Destroyer is rated PG. This is the story of a savage barbarian who drinks, kills, and bones, with very little time for anything else. The idea of putting Conan in a movie where he’s carting around a helpless princess and not doing grisly murders constantly is a classic bungle. The plot of this movie is better suited for Warwick Davis, cause there’s about as much violence and sex as there is in Willow, which is to say basically none. A good movie doesn’t need gratuitous violence and sex, but a character like Conan demands it. It doesn’t have to be lurid, as the first movie proved, but in the untamed Hyborian Age it can’t be ignored. After seeing love scenes, crucifixions, and decapitations in Barbarian, Destroyer seems completely neutered by comparison. The real crime is that the sequel received an R initially but got edited down to PG for wider appeal. Fuck you too, director Richard Fleischer.

This guy also directed Soylent Green and Mandingo, so I don’t even know what to think.

This guy also directed Soylent Green and Mandingo, so I don’t even know what to think.

The tone is also just completely off. Barbarian created a world of gritty pragmatism, with only a handful of upbeat moments to balance out the somber mood. A lot of not nice things happen. Conan’s parents die, and he loses one of his trusted companions in his quest for vengeance. For a guy like Conan who’s supposed to grimly dispatch foes and then pensively consider his place in the cosmos, a lighthearted, jokey tone just wouldn’t be appropriate. But lo and behold, that’s exactly the tone Destroyer takes.

I knew we were off to a bad start when Conan starts off the movie by punching out a camel; not just any camel, but apparently the same camel he punched out in Barbarian. In the first movie, Conan stumbles into a camel one drunken night and punches it in anger, causing it to collapse. His brawn and lack of restraint draw unwanted attention from wary townsfolk, highlighting Conan’s barbarous nature. It’s slightly funny, but it advances the story more than anything. In Destroyer, the camel recognizes Conan and spits on him, causing Conan, sober in this scene, to club it mercilessly over the head. Isn’t it funny when a grown man attacks an animal for no reason? Hey, it’s a callback to a funny scene in the first movie, isn’t that hilarious?

Comedy!

Comedy!

Another problem is that the fantasy elements in Destroyer are way over the top. The first movie is mostly realistic, with sudden, unexpected bursts of fantasy. The magic is subtle and unpredictable, more an awesome force of nature than a tool. Destroyer throws all that out the window and makes magic as goofy and uninteresting as an episode of Charmed. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and the whole movie is premised on the idea that Conan believes Queen Taramis can bring his dead girlfriend back to life. Because he’s that dumb and dependant on magic now. The Conan of the first movie distrusted gods and sorcery, preferring to rely on his own strength and steel, but in Destroyer he trusts magic enough to go on a foolish quest for magical macguffins with an obvious double-cross waiting for him at the end.

The biggest issue in Destroyer is that the bad guys aren’t intimidating at all. Seriously, would you be intimidated by this:

Toth-Amon

Toth-Amon

Or this?

Taramis

Taramis

What about this?

The Vizier

The Vizier

OR FUCKING THIS?

Andre the Giant

Andre the Giant

Compare these jabronis with Thulsa Doom from the first movie and they look like Scooby-Doo villains. There’s never any actual tension in Destroyer because there’s never any doubt that Conan’s going to ice these cartoon clowns with no trouble at all. Thulsa Doom is a thoughtful villain that terrifies us because his calm and soothing demeanor belies darkness and cruelty. The scary thing about him is how he manipulates and mesmerizes people to do his bidding, with his followers even killing themselves for him if he asks it. Every villain in Destroyer amounts to nothing more than a shallow mustache twirler, and it’s a damn shame.

Credit where credit is due: Arnold’s English had improved for the sequel, and it’s always good to see Mako, even if he does wear a silly hat for the whole movie. Tracey Walter is okay as best pal Malak, but I miss Subotai from Barbarian. Wilt Chamberlain is a fun choice for the treacherous Bombaata, and Grace Jones is actually a lot of fun too as Zula. Seriously, check out this baddassery:

This one picture is cooler than the whole rest of the movie.

This one picture is cooler than the whole rest of the movie.

There’s a lot of horrible movies out there, but there’s a special place in Hollywood hell for sequels that tank their franchise this badly. A new Arnold-starring Conan movie (The Legend of Conan) is in the works, and supposedly it will totally ignore Destroyer as if it were X-Men III: The Last Stand. And that’s for the best. I don’t mind a good bad movie, but a bad movie that screws up a good thing this thoroughly just makes me sad. That’s why Conan the Destroyer is the worst sequel of all time.

So there you have it. Who do you think picked the truly turdiest sequel? Me or Aaron? Swing your cursor down to the poll below and let us know!

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