In a quick whirlwind exposition, we learn that there's a special necromancer's mask that grants its wearer
supernatural powers. Ages ago, people apparently got sick of being bullied by necromancers and rebelled. The mask was shattered and the pieces were
hidden throughout the land. When the movie begins we learn that Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) is on a mad quest to reassemble the mask so he can bring his
dead wife back to life and take over the world. Unfortunately for poor pre-teen Conan, one of the pieces is in his house. So Zym arrives with
his army, burns Conan's village, and kills his father, leaving our little barbarian to wander the earth in search of revenge.
Twenty years later, Zym is still searching for the mask's final component, the pure blood of Tamara (Rachel Nichols), an innocent
monk trainee hiding in the mountains. Tamara is less a character than an object of play, with each side fighting to retain possession. Zym wants her blood
and Conan wants Zym, so after rescuing her, he decides to take her prisoner. "She is my property now," he tells Zym's men. From then on, Tamara spends
a good chunk of the movie tied up or tied to things. At one point, Zym and Conan quite literally fight over her as she lies chained to a sacrificial
altar. What's especially strange about this is that despite two separate scenes in which Conan frees groups of slaves and expresses hatred for those
who hold others captive, he never thinks twice about keeping Tamara under lock and chain for half the movie.
Romance between the two inexplicably blossoms on Conan's ship where he remakes her into his vision of what a woman should be. "You look like a harlot,"
he tells her. "Cimmerian women dress like warriors. Give her the leather and the armor." Of course this makeover is purely aesthetic, rather than
character-based. Later, in a masterful seduction, Conan looks her in the eye and declares, "I live. I love. I slay. I am content." Evidently, this is
all the wooing necessary for her to give up her virginity (or implied virginity, at least: She's a monk). The two make needlessly graphic love in a
cave in the shadow of his sword. Later, when Zym is defeated, Conan simply rides off, leaving Tamara behind. "I know you have to leave," she says. He
probably won't even call.
Granted, the fantasy genre typically relies upon these kinds of stock roles—the damsel in the tower, the hunky knight, the sallow necromancer—but many
popular modern works have made great strides in bending conventions, if not breaking them completely. While J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series has been criticized for its use (or lack) of women characters, the Peter Jackson adaptation beefed up the role of females and portrayed a few key instances of girl power. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen (Liv Tyler) rescues Frodo (Elijah Wood) after he is stabbed by the Witch-King. In Return of the King, we discover that the formerly invincible Witch-King can only be felled by a woman's hand when Éowyn (Miranda Otto) delivers the killing blow (Both times I saw that part in theaters, people went wild with applause).