Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Richard Fleischer
Starring: Brigette Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Final Score: 7.5/10
“Danger is my trade,” powerfully built Kalidor proclaims. Based on all his sword-clanging efforts to recover a glowing orb whose magic imperils the world, it’s plain his trade is in demand and thriving.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, who muscled his way into screen action lore as Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, returns to the sword-and-sorcery realm as Kalidor in Red Sonja, based on stories by Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Brigette Nielsen is flame-haired heroine Sonja, leading a glorious quest in a mystical land where fortress walls have faces, dinosaur bones form a bridge, a lethal mechanical serpent writhes, swarming minions follow a vile queen… and where heroes lay claim to legend.
It may not be outright comedic, but Red Sonja certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a coherent story that each scene helps build, but it never moves beyond a fun adventure movie. It’s pure sword and sorcery about saving the world from an evil villain. The plot is linear with very minimal subplots. Good dialogue, including some cheesy lines if that’s your thing, and adventuresome music add to the fun.
There are a couple of touching scenes that help bring the characters to life. The friendship between Sonja and the character Tarn is very cute, although it starts off weak. Tarn also has a friendship with his servant/mentor Falkon, who he mistreats throughout most of the film, but it slowly works its way to a comfortable level. Beyond that, the relationships are just there for the movie. The villain is just insane, and the main romance is based on physical strength and skill, not love. Since it’s sword and sorcery, the characters would much rather make quips at each other and the enemy than show any feelings.
One of the best things about Red Sonja is the fight scenes. The choreography is well done, and each fight is exciting. Two elements stand out during the movie that does take away from it a little. One is a fight that is fought until both fighters are exhausted and it just becomes silly as they slowly flail their swords around. The other is the repetitive moves that the heroes use to kill the enemy. After a while it starts to feel like a video game with the characters mashing the A button. The movie ends with a long running battle through a castle that ends with a bang.
Special effects are used sparingly in the movie and most of them are okay. The use of blood is not over done and looks natural and the explosion looks practical. Where the effects fall a little is for the creatures. A large metal dragon is in a longer scene, although we don’t see it fully, and looks okay once you know it’s supposed to look like metal. There is also a spider that shows up that is clearly a remote-controlled robot with a spider suit stuck on top. And the lava near the end of the movie could have looked a little more natural.
Everything looks great. Costumes are well made, the landscapes are amazing, and the sets look great. There are quite a few robed characters in the movie, as well as some with not much clothing at all. We go back and forth from oriental designs to barbarian designs. We get a bone bridge and a cool castle for that fantasy feel, but some of the other sets feel small. One scene near the beginning takes Sonja to a city, but we get no establishing shot and are only shown one section of the city. There is also the questionable shot of the land of darkness that lies on the other side of a canyon. It looks cool, but is also really cheesy.