The opening is promising enough as child Conan witnesses the brutal deaths of his father and mother at the whim of the evil Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Conan Jr grows up as a slave who eventually has the good fortune of turning into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s the baddies’ fatal flaw that they shove Conan into an arena to fight chosen competitors to the death. The guy naturally realizes he’s pretty strong and decides to strike out on his own to see how far his muscles can take him.
In those days it was pretty far. On the road he meets up with a fellow drifter (Gerry Lopez), beautiful cohort and eventual lover Sandahl Bergman, needy king Max von Sydow and goofy wizard Mako.
Director John Milius does a nice job of setting up the initial story. There is a real anticipation as Schwarzenegger is unveiled as the barbarian and sets off on the road to independence. But for whatever reasons, the actor has a minimum of dialog and fails to convey much about the character through his actions.
This is compounded by the script by Milius and Oliver Stone, which is nothing more than a series of meaningless adventures and ambiguous references until the final expected confrontation with Jones.