A key rule of the theater is what I like to call the “staircase” rule. First the play begins with a small example of drama, then proceeds with a larger and larger act of drama, culminating in a final, penultimate expression at the end. It is a building process, and a mode of storytelling that has been utilized for centuries. Adherence to this formula can either help or hinder a film’s potential. Such is the risk of all movies. 2011’s Conan The Barbarian is no different.

The movie’s introduction is an example of the film’s bloody, over-the-top violence. Five minutes into the film and a 10-year old Conan brings back the severed heads of foreign invaders. Then the film jumps forward an unknown number of years, where a chance encounter with a noseless raider takes Conan on a quest to avenge the death of his father and his village.

The time jump could be seen as both good and ill. Back stories, while important, can overwhelm the movie’s pace with too much information, or leave a movie struggling to top expectations that are simply too high to reach. In jumping ahead in years the film seeks to keep the rhythm flowing from event to event, but it also serves as an abrupt halt, leaving Morgan Freeman’s narration to describe a vital chunk of Conan’s life.

The film has the usual fantasy elements: bloodthirsty sand-mummies, an unseen homage to the 1982 film’s giant serpent, among others. However, the devotion the film pays to it’s creatures leaves the human cast somewhat wanting. The film’s antognists (father-and-daughter duo of Khalar Zym and Marique) leave a lot to be desired. There is a moment between these characters that illustrate their toxic relationship. It is clear that Marique is desperate to prove her importance to her father’s bloody quest of godhood but is only seen as a vessel for his ideals. “You are not your mother,” he says after Marique’s begging. It implies that, were his daughter’s sacrifice necessary for the resurrection of his wife, Zym would not hesitate to abandon her to such a fate. But the moment is only an implication, never explored in the film.

Jason Momoa provides an intense but slimmer Conan. His over-the-top voice is a reminder of Christian Bale’s “Batman growl.” Momoa does carry a natural intensity to the character, portraying a Conan that is constantly keeping his temper in check, that might explode into bloody vengeance at any time. Schwarzengger’s Conan brought more physical presence to the role but ruined the performance with his accent. Momoa’s character, by contrast, is more believable while keeping an over-the-top exaggeration.

Is Conan the Barbarian better or worse than it’s 1982 predecessor? That is kind of up in the air. The audience will have to decide whatever or not to become one of the Conan faithful, but it is a good two-hour adventure. Go ahead. You might just enjoy it.

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