“I know my future. You have none”: ‘Red Sonja’ Review
After Conan the Barbarian became a star-making vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dino De Laurentiis sought another mythical sword and fantasy epic property, and the result was Red Sonja. Even though it’s based on characters created by Robert E. Howard and the film takes place in the mythical Hyborian Age (just like in the two previous Conan films), the film is not a sequel or a spin-off but rather its adventure.
Directed by Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green, Conan the Destroyer), Red Sonja tells the story of a warrior woman (Brigitte Nielsen) in the Hyborian Age who sets out on a vengeful path to slay an evil queen in possession of a magical orb. Along the way, Red Sonja meets up with a group of powerful warriors who help her on her dangerous quest, one of them the powerful King Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
If a lot of Red Sonja sounds a lot like another film dealing with barbarians in mythical age, it’s because it feels like this film wants to be the next Conan the Barbarian but it isn’t. Not only is Fleischer directing again and Schwarzenegger co-starring in it, but a lot of Red Sonja, including the main plot thread, feels a lot like a Conan retread. Just swap out the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) for Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), and you have Conan the Barbarian. Part of what made the original Conan a groundbreaking entry into the sword and fantasy genre is that it took the material seriously, and it dared to ask a lot of questions about heroism, destiny, and fate, Red Sonja isn’t really concerned with any of that it just feels that by having a lot of impressive sets and enough action it’ll be enough to be considered along that same league.
Even though the acting is all over the place, from both Nielsen and Schwarzenegger, and even the costumes seem to be ineffective holdovers from the Conan films, the film does have a wonderfully rousing score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone. Morricone’s score, while not as grandiose as Basil Poledouris’ score for Conan, does bring a great adventure rhythm to the film – and yeah even though at times it might be reminiscent to his old spaghetti western themes, it does bring a certain personality to the film that otherwise it’s lacking.
Even if you feel like completing the Schwarzenegger barbarian trilogy, just stick with the original John Milius classic – which, like a fine wine, it ages gracefully as the years go by. Yeah, there are some cool action moments in Red Sonja and some stunning sets, but I’d say just stick with other fantasy films and the original Schwarzenegger classic. However, it might be more entertaining if you view it as a cheesy, campy B movie complete with ridiculous one-liners and not so good acting.