When a big property like Conan is finally cast, that initial moment of excitement (or despair) is matched only by watching the subsequent waves of fan reaction. It's one reason I enjoy my job so much. It's people watching on a global and digital scale, and it's especially enjoyable if you're not particularly invested in the character. So much about fandom, fantasy, and imagination is revealed in people's knee-jerk reactions. (And yes, I've been guilty of them myself. Who isn't?) I couldn't care less who plays Conan the Barbarian. The only thing I wish for is a good sword-and-sorcery movie so that someone will put together a Red Sonja movie. A real Red Sonja movie. Not the cultish cheese that was Brigitte Nielson's attempt, nor the elaborate piece of fan fiction that Robert Rodriguez is cooking up.
In fact, I nearly scrapped the piece when I learned Rodriguez's film was still faintly breathing. (I'm sure readers wish I had.) I've actually tried to be kind about that, but let's face it, it was always an excuse to put Rose McGowan in a chain mail bikini. Well, she already took the photos in it, so why not just leave it at that? Leave it as a nice, sexy piece of pop art that men and women snapped up at ComicCon 2008, and allow the t-shirts to live on as a geeky relic. There's no need to waste millions on a script, casting, and special effects just to see McGowan moving around in the bikini unless you're a die hard McGowan fan or Rodriguez himself. Scrap it. Start over.
No one needs to write the character from scratch, either. Dynamite's current Red Sonja run has been pretty darn entertaining, and is actually the rare example of a reboot that actually works. Sonja is resurrected in the body of a noblewoman, and while she's no pushover, she's no warrior queen. But the Hyborian Age being what it is, she soon finds herself the ruler of a smoldering ruin, and a helpful guide shows up to remind her who she once was. She has to retrain and become the Red Sonja of legend, but it's not as easy as a training montage. She's basically two different personalities and two different skill sets. It's pretty complicated, all things considered.
I think a dual personality is a great way to start a remake. For one, it's open to all kinds of interpretation (women who try to be everything in the modern world), and it gets rid of her outdated origin. (Raped and left for dead.) It immediately earns the sympathy of all those who think she's nothing but cheesecake. Let's face it -- girls look at her comic book (or her promo movie poster) and instinctively recoil. It doesn't seem like a book that's written for women. It looks like nothing but T&A. If I didn't know better, I would think this is the kind of book where chain mail bikinis fell off at awkward moments.
But she's not that kind of character all. Sonja is a hard-drinking, hard-living badass who earns her living as a mercenary. Now that she's well and truly resurrected, she's back to her old life of adventure. She occasionally does the right thing (especially if women and children are being wronged), but she's generally out for herself and lends her sword to the highest bidder. I've never figured out why she favors skimpy chain mail (other than the obvious reason of lusty artists and readers), but continuity suggests it's not to attract men or romance. It seems to be her rude gesture to the people of the Hyborian Age, who expect her to look a little more sensible. In that respect, it's a bit of a rude gesture to us as well. If that's what she wants to wear, who are we to say anything? She's not a woman you criticize.
Action and genre films haven't made a lot of room for women who are absolutely amoral, and who fight only for their own gain. Just about all the action heroines we know and love -- Ripley, Sarah Connor, Beatrix Kiddo, Charlie Baltimore -- all battle out of motherly affection or instinct. Even Lee Geum-ja of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is ultimately motivated by an instinct of maternal revenge. As much as I love these characters, you have to be disappointed when you actually sit down and analyze why they're motivated to pack heat.
There have been heroines who were supposed to walk the line of self-interest -- Lara Croft, Catwoman, even Jean Grey. Lara Croft is a lot closer to Raiders of the Lost Ark's Rene Belloq than Indy, but no studio was going to let her seek treasure just for her own interests. No, she had to become involved in plots to save the entire human race. Catwoman also walks the line between law and order, but the Halle Berry monstrosity remade her into some kind of do-good detective. Jean Grey's power is that of a god, and above petty things like human morality, but X3 took away that conundrum by making her mentally incapable. (There's no disturbing implications there at all.)
We've gotten rather prudish when it comes to self-interested women. Film noir is full of them. The Maltese Falcon, one of the finest films of any age, features a woman who is shamelessly greedy and ruthless. John Huston seemed to understand that a lust for the finer things didn't necessarily make a lady unlikeable, just her actions. But movies now see women as our Victorian predecessors did, and make us out to be incorruptible and pure of heart. (But sexy!) It's so boring. It's inhuman.
As I've mentioned before, this decade looks to be a promising one for superheroines. I suspect it might be a promising one for old-school fantasy as well. It'd be nice if the decade had room for a character who lived only for adventure, wealth, and the feel of a sword in her hand. Moviegoers have always gotten a vicarious thrill out of characters who embrace a hard and violent life for financial gain -- pirates, gunfighters, assassins -- and women admire Carrie Bradshaw for living, working, and shopping purely for herself. Red Sonja knows what is best in life (independence!), and it's about time cinema allowed a heroine to spill copious amounts of blood to get it.