Marvel Movie Madness! Part 20: Red Sonja

Marvel starts seeing Red. Will we?

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.


Part 20: Red Sonja (1985, 20% @ 20 reviews)
Directed by Richard Fleischer, starring Brigette Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Ernie Reyes Jr.

Luke: It's telling when Arnold Schwarzenegger describes this film as one of his worst -- he once said that he used it as a threat to his kids: "I tell them, if they get on my bad side, they'll be forced to watch Red Sonja 10 times in a row." So what do they and Maria make him watch? Jingle All the Way? I beg to differ with Arnold's appraisal of his canon.

Not that Red Sonja is good. It's terrible -- but in a pleasurable way. Brigitte Nielsen was apparently cast in the title role mere weeks before production when producer Dino De Laurentis saw her picture in a fashion magazine, and she delivers the kind of magnificently wooden performance that hiring process would suggest. Any time Schwarzenegger shows up -- which is not enough, because he disappears for long, deadly stretches of the film -- it's like Olivier stepped on set; that's how lifeless Nielsen is. But all of this adds to the fun. Watching her and others negotiate lines like "Talisman... stolen... must... destroy... the... talisman" and "so it's true -- only women may touch it" is to be in bad acting heaven. And Arnie's Kalidor (essentially Conan but by name) wrestling and punching a mechanical dragon in a pond is like that scene in Ed Wood where Lugosi had to tangle with the fake octopus.

One thing that is genuinely great in the film is Ennio Morricone's score. I was surprised to hear it, but it's unmistakeably him in Spaghetti fantasy mode. And some of the costume design (there are some fantastic headdresses) and shot composition/photography in the castle scenes (the DP often worked with Fellini, so there you go) wouldn't look out of place in a Jodorowsky film. Hire that guy to do the remake, I say -- you're sure to get the requisite fantasy nudity missing here, at least.


Alex: Brigitte Nielsen's performance, annoying bratty sidekicks, and an endless barrage of weird Arnie lines. There's plenty of things about Red Sonja that would bug me, but something like Neilsen trying to act up to Schwarzenegger's level is really a sight to behold. I liked Red Sonja, and not even ironically. This is a one-of-a-kind fantasy camp implosion that could only occur within the confines of 1985.

The movie opens with scenes of carnage, including Sonja's rape at the decree of Queen Gedren, apparently as an act of revenge for Sonja rebuking her sexual advances. The movie's plot involves preventing Gedren from using a destructive artifact that evaporates any male who touches it. There's an upfront and transgressive sexual agenda in play that's rather delightful, especially considering most sex in comic book movies is handled with kid gloves, drawn from easily-digested affairs or love triangles. Red Sonja is supremely silly, like a Boris Vallejo painting come to life, and that's got to count for something.

Matt: I have to jump in with a quick note for the nitpickers about how Red Sonja qualifies for inclusion as a Marvel Movie; Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan) did create a character called "Red Sonya" for one of his stories, but apart from the name, that character had little to do with what we see in the movie. Marvel writer Roy Thomas took the renaissance-era, pistol-packing secondary character created by Howard, and dropped her into Marvel's take on Howard's Hyborian age, changing her into a sword-wielding, chain-mail bikini-wearing heroine. Confused? Just remember that Red Sonja as seen on screen is mostly based on her comics appearance, and not as a book character.

This is a great example of "so bad it's good," and that's mainly because of the cast. Arnold, Brigitte, and Sandahl Bergman (previously seen in Conan the Barbarian) are all pretty awful here, as is most of the dialogue. Ernie Reyes Jr, as the child prince, is pretty annoying, but you can forgive him because the script is so silly. The other fun part of this movie is spotting the 80s character actors; that's Paul Smith (Bluto in Popeye and Feyd Rabban in Dune) as the prince's guardian, and Gedren's right-hand man was played by Ronald Lacey, who's probably most recognizable as Major Toht (the black-clad, face-melting Nazi) from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

You can tell this movie was done on the cheap, but producer Dino De Laurentiis still manages to make the movie look pretty good (relatively speaking). It's not quite an epic production, but it doesn't look as bad as something like The Sword and the Sorcerer. It's not a great example of movie making, but it's a damn sight better that Man-Thing.


Jeff: There isn't a lot of analysis I can add to what you guys have already written, but I have to say that I think Red Sonja is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. It's amazing -- words can't possibly do it justice. Every performance -- hell, every single line -- is delivered without an iota of visible connection to the material, and watching it while listening to Morricone's dramatic score is like watching someone desperately try and blow up a leaky balloon. It's absolutely mesmerizing. I urge everyone reading this to see it at their earliest convenience, preferably after having a few drinks.

More Marvel Movie Madness:

Comments

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

Never seen it. Never will.

Jun 22 - 12:50 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

I would have never guessed you'd say that ...

Jun 22 - 03:24 PM

filmfanatic

Chris Stanton

Looks awful.

Jun 22 - 12:50 PM

Italian Stallion

Alexander P

FIRST!!!....oh...wait

Jun 23 - 01:46 PM

filmfanatic

Chris Stanton

First

Jun 22 - 12:50 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

May the fail be with you... always.

Jun 22 - 01:08 PM

bamb0o-stick

Jonathan Y

Epic win comment, Watcher.

Jun 22 - 01:53 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

hahaha

Jun 22 - 02:26 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

Fail

Jun 22 - 01:08 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

You do realize that one of the posts that beat your "First" comment was one of your own, right? Did you forget you posted that less than a minute previous?

Jun 22 - 02:41 PM

anDy

Andreas Babs

I thought Red Sonja would be the biggest fail on the page. What a twist!

Jun 22 - 09:44 PM

Myerla

Elliot Newton

*claps* Nice one!

Jun 23 - 07:02 AM

CyborgUnicorn

Cyborg Unicorn

I never saw this one, but I'm really excited about the new Conan movie, especially since they released the redband trailer.

Jun 22 - 01:08 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

May the fail be with you... always.

Jun 22 - 01:08 PM

bamb0o-stick

Jonathan Y

Epic win comment, Watcher.

Jun 22 - 01:53 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

hahaha

Jun 22 - 02:26 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

Fail

Jun 22 - 01:08 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

I love this movie... probably the best worst movie ever made

Jun 22 - 01:10 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

If you love to see wonderfully horrible movies, you should rent (or watch on intant view) Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. You will be hating me and thanking me at the same time.

Jun 22 - 02:38 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

What about House of the Dead?

Jun 22 - 08:16 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

I have have seen that, that is also a horribly awesome movie. "What do you say I... take you home and eat your pussy" thats in my top 10 movie quotes lol

Jun 22 - 08:27 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Absolutely my favorite line in the movie. Especially since it w.orked!! .So out of the blue

Jun 22 - 10:52 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Thank you, smartphone, for the extra punctuation in that last post.

Jun 22 - 10:55 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

@Noah - XD

Jun 23 - 10:57 AM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Oh, this is so terrible, worse than even Conan the Destroyer, and that's an achievement to be proud of XD

@Cyborg - you do realize this has nothing to do with the movie "Conan"? aHnold plays a different character here, the only similarity is that both films are based on books written by the same author.

Jun 22 - 01:10 PM

manwithoutfear19

Daniel Raimondi

never seen it

Jun 22 - 01:34 PM

bamb0o-stick

Jonathan Y

Epic win comment, Watcher.

Jun 22 - 01:53 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

hahaha

Jun 22 - 02:26 PM

I am not drunk

Nicolas Sara

So... I've never seen in and am not interested in seeing it. So I'm gonna use this comment to ask RT something I meant to ask for a long time.

Why do all the trailers on your website look and sound absolutely awful ???

Whenever I see there's a new trailer on RT, I usually just copy and paste the title of the movie on youtube, so I can actually watch it in great quality.

Just wondering.

Jun 22 - 02:08 PM

rwfatface

Rick Palmer

Fair question drunk.

How about it RT?

Jun 22 - 11:06 PM

Adam G.

Adam Gonzales

i have to admit i liked this movie so much as a kid that i would still sit through it even now as an adult. i don't know what it is about this movie?? i know its bad but i still kinda like it. didn't know until today that she was a marvel character though.

Jun 22 - 02:12 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

It's not all that bad. I liked the swordfighting and I recall enjoying RED SONJA quite a bit, though I never before made the connection that it should look a lot better and have much better production values for a 1985 movie. That's the year that gave us TO LIVE & DIE IN L.A., for chrissake, so I know 1985 is capable of great things.

Still, I don't care for all the negativity from the RT editorial staff here. [I know it's a cheap shot to say something like this, but] How many good movies have they made?

Jun 22 - 03:12 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Sweet Jesus! Not that tired ass argument again. "How many good movies have they made"? Dude, how many relevant points have YOU made on these boards? None yet by my count.

Jun 22 - 07:17 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

I think I've made a decent point or 2 in my reviews & essays, Matanuki. (By the way, I speak Japanese, though not fluently, and I wonder what that name might mean.) Also, I qualified my derisive statement with the sentence's preface [in brackets]. You have to admit the RT writers have been uniformly blatantly mean & dismissive to several of these Marvel movies. My distaste for such a kind of discourse has been noted, and I hope the authors of the above article are at least pleased that I am reading their work and that I am engaged.

Jun 22 - 08:13 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

Excuse my frustration. But I just get irked at the "how many good movies have you made" argument. I simply cannot stand it. And with good reason. Here we are discussing movies. That's what this entire site is all about. A filmography is not requisite to having an opinion on movies. Never has been. So there simply is no precedent for the comment even though is somehow enjoys an immortal shelf-life.

You disagree with them, are turned off by their "negativity", fine. Say that. And back it with something legitimate. Even nothing at all is better than "how many good movies have you made?"

Anyway, I'm sorry for the attitude. But lets face it, some of these movies are incredibly bad and deserve all the hate they're getting. War Zone comes to mind with that goddamn embarrassing Saturday Night Fever scene. I think Bigbrother nailed it on the head when he brought that up.

Here I am loving Stevenson in the role of Castle, and then I gotta watch this crew of clowns and idiots walking the street like they have no sense at all. It's scary to think that the people (professionals?!) involved with the making of the film all gave each other high fives and said, "hey, this is some good stuff."

Jun 22 - 09:07 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

By the way, since you asked, the name connotes to an extreme demonstration of courage and honor. You're the first in all my years as a member to ever even express knowing that it is an actual Japanese word. :-)

Jun 22 - 09:11 PM

Kwah

Juan Juan

I hate that argument, too, and am aware of its weaknesses. I'm not usually such lazy writer. I shouldn't have used it, even with my attempt to show that I disapproved of it in the explicatory phrase just before I the guilty phrase. //

I'll now lock myself in my Carrie closet and recite Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" 10 times and ask for Absolution. Or I'll grab a serrated blade, vow never to be so trite in commenting here, and commit matanuki.

Jun 22 - 11:17 PM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

lol. It's clear you've got class, so how the hell do you watch War Zone without succumbing a primal urge to throw something at the screen every time Jigsaw enters the reel?

But I'm getting off topic here. Red Sonja. From my childhood, the only thing I really remember about this film is absolutely loving how short Nielsen's skirt was. How's this for detached? Upon reading this article was my first time learning that Arnie WASN'T Conan in this film.

Jun 23 - 04:44 AM

Kwah

Juan Juan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO0wew2sBZY

Jun 23 - 08:43 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

On a funny side note, the guy who played Loony Bin Jim is the same guy who's married to that 16 year old in the news, so now he's sinned against nature at least twice.

Jun 23 - 09:05 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Speaking of controversial news. Where's the Ryan Dunn Memorium? Did I miss that? That was a pretty heavy story involving his death and Eberts comments, but didn't see it mentioned by RT. Did I miss it?

Jun 23 - 09:51 AM

Matanuki

Matanuki .

LMAO!!!

Jun 23 - 01:11 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P35eZvHwDs8

Jun 23 - 02:36 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

As a kid, this movie was a VHS favorite of mine after it came out on video. I haven't watched it in a long time so I'm gonna leave it as a good childhood memory vs. a crappy movie as an adult.

I also remember thinking, why is Conan getting second billing here? I know its not the Conan character but they pretty much wanted to get as much out of Schwarzenegger's Conan fame as possible.

Jun 22 - 02:23 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

hahaha

Jun 22 - 02:26 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I remember renting this way back in the day when I was a kid, and that is it. I do not remember a single scene from it, at all. I kind of want to watch it now after this glowing review praising its awfulness.

Jun 22 - 02:34 PM

Adam G.

Adam Gonzales

oh man!! you don't even remember the fight with the mechanical dragon??? oh god its so awful....but its so good.

Jun 22 - 02:45 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

If you love to see wonderfully horrible movies, you should rent (or watch on intant view) Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. You will be hating me and thanking me at the same time.

Jun 22 - 02:38 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

What about House of the Dead?

Jun 22 - 08:16 PM

redrooster0

Charlie Voelker

I have have seen that, that is also a horribly awesome movie. "What do you say I... take you home and eat your pussy" thats in my top 10 movie quotes lol

Jun 22 - 08:27 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Absolutely my favorite line in the movie. Especially since it w.orked!! .So out of the blue

Jun 22 - 10:52 PM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

Thank you, smartphone, for the extra punctuation in that last post.

Jun 22 - 10:55 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

@Noah - XD

Jun 23 - 10:57 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

You do realize that one of the posts that beat your "First" comment was one of your own, right? Did you forget you posted that less than a minute previous?

Jun 22 - 02:41 PM

Adam G.

Adam Gonzales

oh man!! you don't even remember the fight with the mechanical dragon??? oh god its so awful....but its so good.

Jun 22 - 02:45 PM

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