So a while back, I mentioned that Howard The Duck was the first full length feature film to star a Marvel Comics’ character. Well, technically, that is not entirely true because today’s movie came out a year earlier. I know that she is based off of a swashbuckling character created by Robert E. Howard (called Red Sonya of Rogatino), but the character as she is more commonly known was created by Marvel Comics to interact with Conan the Barbarian, which Howard also created. I remember watching this movie years ago as a kid and would catch it every now and then again on cable. When I bought the Conan movies on DVD, I decided to go ahead and pick this up as well because I always felt like it belonged with those movies (which it apparently did). So here’s today’s movie, Red Sonja.
The plot: When Sonja is taken to Queen Gedren, who makes advances towards her, Sonja breaks free from the guard holding her and strikes out at Gedren, scarring her face. In retaliation, Gedren orders Sonja’s family to be killed and her house burned down while Sonja is raped by Gedren’s guards and left for dead. A spirit comes to Sonja and tells her that vengeance can be hers, then revitalizes her, giving her the strength so she will be unmatched with a sword. Some time later, a temple run by an order of priestesses have been entrusted with the Talisman, a mystic artifact that has been said to have created the world but now has grown so powerful that it can destroy it. The priestesses plan on sealing the Talisman in a pit where light can’t reach it but soldiers led by Gerden and her aide, Ikol, attack the temple, slaughtering most of the priestess. Gerden has a soldier touch the orb and when he disappears, she has her female servant touch it and when she is unharmed, she says the rumors are true and that only women can touch it. The orb is placed in a container and carried off, while the surviving priestesses are thrown into the pit and Gerden starts sealing it before throwing the key into the pit as well. One of the priestesses, Varna, manages to escape through a secret passage but she is pursued by some of Gerden’s men, who shoot her in the back as she slides down a rope bridge. Lord Kalidor, who was supposed to meet the priestesses but was delayed by a broken bridge, catches her, then kills her pursuers and Varna tells him that the Talisman was taken and she needs to speak to her sister, Sonja. At a training camp, Sonja has finished training under a Grand Master and he offers her a gift of any sword from the blacksmith. As she chooses her sword, Kalidor arrives at the camp to tell her about her sister and she rides off after him. Sonja reaches her sister’s side, who tells her what happened before she dies, and when Kalidor offers to help her, she refuses, saying she doesn’t need the help of any man. As Sonja lights a funeral pyre for Varna, she sees a lightning storm off in the distance and realizes someone is using the Talisman. Leaving Kalidor, she heads towards the storm and finds the kingdom of Hablock in complete ruins and the only people left there are Prince Tarn and his servant Falkon. After Sonja helps Falkon rescue Tarn, she asks them what happened and Falkon says that Gerden attacked them with her new weapon when they refused to surrender. Tarn says that his army ran away but he planned to raise a new army to get revenge on Gerden and offers Sonja a job as his cook but she refuses, then asks where to find Gerden and Falkon tells her that Gerden is in Berkubane, the Kingdom of Eternal Night. Sonja heads out to the mountain pass and asks Lord Brytag to let her pass but Brytag refuses unless she sleeps with him. Sonja challenges him and ends up killing him in a fight but as she grabs the key, she is surrounded by Brytag’s soldiers. Suddenly, Kalidor appears and begins attacking Brytag’s soldiers from behind, allowing Sonja to get away and after she opens the gate, he tells her to run and closes the gate, saying he will hold them off. Sonja continues traveling and comes across some bandits torturing Tarn for his gold. Sonja frees Tarn and starts attacking the bandits, as does a returning Falkon, who had been out hunting for food, and the three set off together for Berkubane. At Gerden’s castle, she has the Talisman placed into the chamber of light in order to increase it’s power, despite Ikol warning her that it is dangerous. Returning to her throne room, Gerden sees Sonja, Tarn, and Falkon approaching and, recognizing Sonja, orders Ikol to bring Sonja to her unharmed. As the approach the boundary of Berkubane, Sonja grows tired of Tarn’s arrogance and attempts to spank him but Falkon stops her and she chastises Tarn for his behavior. Later that night, Sonja sees Tarn practicing and offers to teach him the difference between fencing and fighting, which Tarn accepts. Gerden uses the Talisman to summon a storm that forces the trio into a cavern, where they are attacked by the Icthyan Killing Machine. As the three scramble to scale the cavern walls to avoid the rising water, Kalidor arrives and jumps on the creatures back, where he attempts to kill it. Unable to do so, Kalidor yells out to Sonja that they have to blind it and she jumps into the water and swims over to where Kalidor is struggling with the creature and proceeds to pry it’s eyes out with a dagger. Heading back outside, Sonja is tending to Kalidor’s wounds and asks why he is following her. He explains that his ancestors were the ones that entrusted the Talisman to the priestesses, since it can only be touched by women. He was on his way to watch the destruction of the talisman when he found Varna, and wanted to ensure Sonja made it to the Talisman so she could destroy it. Sonja apologizes to him, saying she thought he wanted something else from her and he grabs her hand and says he does, before pulling her in for a kiss. Sonja breaks away from the kiss and says she made a vow that no man may have her unless they beat her in fair combat. As Sonja goes to lay down, Kalidor draws his sword, then holds it at Sonja’s throat and challenges her, before using his sword to hand Sonja her own sword. Sonka grabs it and the two begin sparring, which wakes Falkon and Tarn. Seeing Kalidor fighting with Sonja, Tarn attacks Kalidor but Sonja explains that they are simply practicing. Tarn goes back to where he was sleeping and watches them for a while before going back to bed, wondering aloud why Sonja is fighting so hard when she doesn’t really want to win. Meanwhile, Sonja and Kalidor continue fighting and end up calling it a draw when they are both too tired to raise their arms anymore. Arriving at Gerden’s castle, they find her army returning from ransacking another kingdom and as tremors shake the ground, Sonja realizes that she has to destroy the Talisman soon or else the world will be destroyed. Realizing that they will have to scale the wall to get inside, Sonja, Falkon, and Kalidor convince Tarn to stay behind and guard the doorway to prevent anyone from leaving. Inside, Ikol tells Gerden that she must destroy the Talisman but she refuses and he runs away. Sonja, Kalidor, and Falkon make it inside and, after dealing with some guards, split up to find the Talisman. Meanwhile, Ikol opens up the doorway and attempts to flee but runs into Tarn, who begins fighting with him and eventually kills Ikol when he accidentally causes the door to close on top of him. Tarn reaches the throne room and is captured by Gerden but when Sonja arrives, the tremors cause Gerden to release Tarn. Sonja has Tarn go find Kalidor and Falkon as she begins fighting with Gerden. When Sonja starts to get the upper hand, Gerden’s sorcerer begins helping Gerden but Sonja decapitates him and Gerden quickly leaves the chamber. Reaching the Chamber of Light, Gerden seals the door but Sonja makes it inside and continues fighting with her. KAlidor, Tarn, and Falkon arrive and try lifting the gate, allowing Tarn to slip inside but the tremors open a fissure in the chamber, causing a tower of candles to fall onto Tarn and trap him. Sonja manages to stab Gerden and kicks her into the fissure, where she falls into the river of magma below, then quickly throws the Talisman inside as well, destroying it. Sonja then frees Tarn and they escape the chamber but find their way out of the castle blocked. Tarn opens the door and tells the others to run but Kalidor and Falkon manage to save him and the four escape the castle before it is destroyed in an explosion. Falkon and Tarn head back to Hablock and invite Sonja to visit once it is rebuilt, while Sonja and Kalidor draw their swords and prepare to fight again, only to kiss each other after a few strikes.
Red Sonja met with heavy criticism from the critics, holding a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that it is a, “Dull, poorly directed, and badly miscast, Red Sonja is an uninspired conclusion to Schwarzenegger’s barbarian trilogy.” The movie was nominated for three Razzies and actually won one of them; that being the award for Worst New Star, which went to Brigitte Nielsen. A remake was announced in 2008, with Robert Rodriguez directing and Rose McGowan starring in it, but after the failure of the Conan The Barbarian remake, they both backed out and the movie has since been in limbo. The movie was a box office bomb, only earning $6.9 million off of a $17.9 million budget.
I will admit it, this is a bad movie but it does have it’s good parts. The acting was ok but I have to agree with the critics that Brigitte Nielsen was very wooden in her performance. I honestly liked Ernie Reyes Jr. (Tarn) and Paul L. Smith (Falkon) as they made for some great comedic moments throughout the movie. The story was pretty much your basic story of revenge, with Sonja wanting to get revenge on Gerden for killing her family. I think they honestly added the whole Talisman story line in order to make it fit more in the fantasy realm instead of being a generic action movie. The fight scenes were pretty slow paced to be honest but that might just my being used to the more fast paced choreography in today’s movies. Not the greatest sword and sorcery movie that was ever made but you should at least give it a shot.
Rating: 2 out of 5