Red Sonja — actually Red Sonja of Rogatino — was created by Conan’s Robert E. Howard in the 1934 short story “The Shadow of the Vulture,” and more fully developed by writer Roy Thomas in the 1970s for Marvel Comics. Now the “She-Devil With a Sword” is in development for her big screen return, though it’s practically a debut since nobody really cares about the 1985 feature that starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role. Writer Ashley Miller certainly doesn’t, making it clear that the inspiration for the script he’s writing comes from Howard and, particularly, the Gail Simone comic run from Dynamite Entertainment.
“What appeals to me about Sonja is she’s an antihero, and I’ve always been drawn to those characters,” says Miller, whose screenplays include Thor and X-Men: First Class, “and in the context of the world that she lives in and that she operates in, she’s something of an oddity, so I dig that, too. Those are the things about a character that usually jump out at me and make me want to write them or make me think of stories for them. I also think that the character — who she is and how we understand her — has been advanced greatly in recent years by Gail Simone. What she did with her take on the character was just simply fantastic, and I think opened Red Sonja up in a really great way — which I’m fully exploiting.”
Simone, according to Miller, brought Red Sonja down to the level of a real human being. “Her hobbies,” he laughs, “include drinking, killing and f—ing. It’s hard not to love her, because even though she’s portrayed as a bit of a wild child, she doesn’t lose any of the things that make her terrifyingly awesome or a force to be reckoned with when she starts fighting, when she has something to fight for. The thing Gail did better than anybody has done in the comics was really get inside her head and really get to her emotional life and some of the conflicts that she has. When you’re talking about somebody whose formative experiences was watching everyone she loves die, you’re kind of talking about Bruce Wayne exponentiated.”
“There is nothing about Sonja that is adorned in Gail’s world,” Miller adds. “There’s nothing about her that’s pretending to be something that it’s not. Or that’s fronting anything. It doesn’t get carried away with trying to make her mythic. It’s just Sonja is who Sonja is, and if you don’t like it, f— you!”
One of the primary themes that will be explored is the idea of what it means to be alone, which is expressed with the idea that you can’t survive alone, and that if you’ve set your mission in life to kill a lot of people who need killing, when the killing is finished what’s next? What do you have left?
“After you’re done, what do you think you’ve accomplished? Where have you left yourself? Beyond that, what made you start to do that in the first place?” he muses. “Really, it’s about the solitude of Sonja without kind of making it a story about someone who is constantly on her own. It’s a movie. It’s about connections and connecting. What that means and making yourself vulnerable versus making yourself safe. It all kind of goes back to if you’re going to set yourself up as the She-Devil with a Sword, if you’re gong to set your life-long mission as revenge on some level for the death of everyone that you ever loved, what does that make you in the end? Who are you to others? Those are the big things that are buried in that story.”
At the moment, it’s difficult to discuss any empowered female character in film without exploring the impact and influence that the success of the Wonder Woman feature has had on all of this.
“That motivation, for strong female characters, already existed, but I think that Wonder Woman certainly revealed that there is a market, and it’s possibly a larger market than anyone quite understood,” Miller says. “Purely from a business perspective Wonder Woman is important, but that has been true through the history of comic book movies. It takes one to make one, right? You look at Batman ’89 — you don’t get The Crow or Blade without it. If you don’t have X-Men, you don’t have Spider-Man. All of these things kind of become the leading edge of whatever the next wave is going to be. Certainly, I think Wonder Woman was that leading edge of the wave. At the same time, I would say that if all goes according to plan, within the first five minutes of the movie it will be absolutely obvious — crystal clear — that Red Sonja is not Wonder Woman.”
Images: YouTube, Dynamite Entertainment, Warner Bros