The Marvel Movies: Red Sonja (1985)
“Red Sonja” begins with an apparition, catching up Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen) by telling her what just happened to her (as if she didn’t already know). In other words, it’s a clunky attempt to catch audiences up with the backstory, which, essentially, is this: An evil lesbian queen (Sandahl Bergman, a raven-haired villain after playing a blonde heroine in “Conan the Barbarian”) killed Sonja’s family and allowed her men to rape Sonja, all because Sonja rejected her sexual advances. Then “Sonja” jumps into its story about a magical talisman (which only women can touch) overseen by a coven of women that wishes to destroy it.
Enter Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who looks suspiciously like a certain other muscular swordsman we know (Originally, the character was supposed to be Conan, but for reasons which we can only presume are legal, he was renamed). That, of course, doesn’t stop Arnold from getting top billing and upstaging the title character in the movie’s poster.
Kalidor is only a supporting player, though, coming in at key moments to help Sonja and her ragtag band of friends, which includes an even-younger Ernie Reyes Jr. — who would come to a small level of fame in the mid-’90s by starring as a teenage martial-arts expert in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel — as a prince of some Asian descent. The film itself seems to be based somewhere in Europe, though we also see Sonja train in what appears to be China, only to encounter Kalidor only moments later back in some random, generic European locale.
So Evil Lesbian Queen steals this talisman, which has some sort of mystical powers, and Sonja must recover it from her and destroy it. Of course, along the way Sonja and her crew get into a few scrapes with soldiers and monsters alike, and Kalidor always seems to pop in just in time to rescue them. (One sequence in particular finds them encountering some kind of mechanical stone monster while in the water. Don’t ask.)
Sonja also seems to hate men, which only attracts Con…Kalidor more. As a character, you can imagine, Sonja is thinly drawn, and Nielsen, making her acting debut, does little to distinguish the character. She delivers her lines like she’s reading off of cue cards written in another language, which she’s then translating to stilted English.
A good “Red Sonja” drinking game: Take a shot every time there’s some sort of continuity error. You’d get drunk in the finale alone when the queen, who has been wearing a funky ’80s-fabulous jeweled mask the entire film, finally removes it to reveal an ugly scar left by her first encounter with Sonja. Then, as she fights Sonja only seconds later, the scar is inexplicably gone from her face, then reappears, then disappears again. Then, when Sonja stabs the queen through the chest, killing her, when she pulls out her sword, there is no wound in the subsequent shot, and her clothing appears clean and fresh.
I have almost no knowledge of Red Sonja as a comic book character, so I can’t offer much guidance on how faithful this adaptation is; I do know as a movie, “Red Sonja” is a complete mess, and may someday find itself stored for glorious eternity in The Film Yap’s Schlock Vault.
Next Time: A new style of fighting…Quack Fu!
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