It is a classic ban of heroes coming together in order to beat a great enemy. In fact, the entirety of the movies is really a very classic swords and sorcery-type adventure, but a well done one.
Conan the Barbarian succeeds because it knows what it is and it doesn't try to be anything different than that. Conan the Destroyer, directed by Richard Fleischer, fails almost completely, and does so because it jettisons that which makes the original work. In Destroyer, Schwarzenegger gets a larger percentage of the dialogue, but delivers it in just as wooden a fashion as in Barbarian. Rather than going out and surrounding Conan with great actors like James Earl Jones and Max Von Sydow, here Wilt Chamberlain is given a prominent part. Gone is the relatively subdued Subotai (Gerry Lopez) as Conan's sidekick, with Tracey Walter in his place as the solely written for laughs Malak. Walter is a great character actor, but with Stanley Mann's screenplay, Malak's buffoonery is old and annoying before the first scene draws to a close and one wonders why Conan hasn't throttled his companion before the movie begins.
While Barbarian may not have the tightest of plots, the plot holes in Destroyer threaten to swallow the entire picture. It is one of those movies where, every time a character takes an action—or fails to—you'll find yourself saying "Wait, why didn't they just…"
The plot, such as it is, involves Conan escorting a teen princess (Olivia d'Abo) to get a magical key so that she can get a magical horn so that her Aunt can bring a magical god back to life. From even before the entire journey starts it is clear than Conan is being deceived (thankfully the film doesn't take long to admit to that) and that everything will still work out in the end.
One knows going into Barbarian that Conan will win eventually, but he at least still has to struggle for that victory. In Destroyer there is only a minimal amount of struggle necessary, the film is much more concerned with the variety of foe—magical and otherwise—which Conan can defeat, and not with making the battles terribly personal or difficult. It is hard to suggest that Barbarian is not about spectacle, but Destroyer has nothing else and in making it solely about that, it loses something important.
As if to acknowledge just how less good Conan the Destroyer is versus Conan the Barbarian, Universal's brand new Blu-ray releases provide a number of special features for Barbarian and distinct lack of them for Destroyer. Barbarian comes with never before seen archival interviews, deleted scenes, a roughly 60 minute making-of documentary, artwork, a look at a special effect, a feature commentary track with Milius & Schwarzenegger, and a piece on what goes into making a sword. Destroyer comes with the theatrical trailer. Now, not every bonus feature on Barbarian is good – there seems to be a slight video issue in the piece on sword making which causes objects in the picture to looked jagged from time to time, and the look at a special effect is merely a split screen showing the raw footage and the footage after it was altered. However, the making-of piece is exceptionally interesting and provides great background on how the film came to in being. It is completely engaging and well worth the time it takes to watch.