Despite the fact that Brigitte Nielsen plays the title character in Red Sonja (1985), she still has to take second-billing behind Arnold Schwarzenegger, both in the credits and on the DVD cover, which is dominated by The Governator’s muscly mass. Meh. I know this makes sense from a commercial perspective, because Arnie is a much bigger draw than Nielsen… but it still kinda sucks from a Feminist perspective.
Meanwhile, this movie credits the creation of the eponymous amazon to Robert E. Howard, even though she first appeared in a comic book called Conan the Barbarian #23 (Feb 1973), written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith… though it wasn’t until two years later, in in Kull and the Barbarians #3 (Sep 1975), that readers learned of her heart-breaking backstory: Sonja’s family were murdered by mercenaries, who then raped her and left her for dead… at which point she was revived and blessed with superior fighting skills by the Celtic Goddess Scáthach, and sent off on a roaring rampage of revenge. In any decent cinematic version of her adventures, these pivotal events would take up at least ten-to-twenty minutes of screentime… but here they’re dashed off in a dispassionate, two-minute-long opening scene, which seems more interested in establishing the main villainess’s (Sandahl Bergman) unrequited sapphic lust for the heroine, than in moving the audience to righteous man-hatin’ rage. Sadly, this is typical of the half-baked movie that follows, with a by-the-numbers world-domination-via-doomsday-device* plot, fizzling “jokes”, and dialogue so banal that it drove me to select a foreign-language track, just to save my ears the pain (in this case it was the Italian dub… which also spared me the oaken line-readings of Arnie and Nielsen).
However, what really tips this movie from merely mediocre to unforgivably awful is the arrival of the precocious ‘Prince Tarn’, an obnoxious brat who seems to be constantly taunting viewers to slap him through the TV screen. I assume he was included to show Sonja’s softer side, as she repeatedly rushes to his aid, providing a protective mother figure for the spoiled little snot… and, to be fair, he does get a little more tolerable after spending some time in her company… but by that point the damage had already been done, and I couldn’t care less whether he lived or got tossed into a lava-pit to die. Feh. I do have to salute Ernie Reyes Jr., the young actor playing the role, though… that scene where he’s being drawn apart by his arms and legs can’t have been much fun, no matter how gently the stuntmen were pulling those ropes!
* In this case, the “doomsday device” was a glowing green football, supposedly used by God to create the world… and therefore fully capable of tearing it asunder again. Sonja’s sister, Varna (Janet Agren), was one of the warrior-priestesses charged with guarding the “talisman”, which could only be handled by women, and vaporised any man who dared to touch it… though no one ever bothers questioning/explaining why that is… or where Varna was when her family was attacked, back in the day… sigh…