From Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey) and Walter Geovani (Vampirella, Witchblade), Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues gives the iconic fantasy heroine a fresh new attitude.
Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, intends to pay back a blood debt owed to the one man who has gained her respect... even if it means leading a doomed army to their certain deaths! Who is Dark Annisia, and how has this fearsome warrior accomplished what neither god nor demon has been able to do: force Sonja to her knees in surrender? An epic tale of blood, lust, and vengeance, Queen of the Plagues takes Red Sonja from the depths of her own grave to the heights of battlefield glory.
Comic book films are everywhere in today's cinema. There's actually a huge straight to video market, where storylines directly based on books are animated and sent straight to Blu-ray and DVD instead of to the big screen. Now there are two ways this is usually done. There are those that create their own style of animation tailored to fit the story being told, and crafting a new fully realized vision to animate these comic panels, which is the way I like. And then there are those that use what is called ‘motion comics,’ which is just taking the literal pages in the comics and adding motion to them. It doesn't sound like that much of a difference, but in fact they couldn’t be more different.
I have seen a handful of animated adaptations of comics, but none have had the crippling problem of being made into a motion comic like this one has. I actually liked moving away from a traditional superhero adaptation, and going toward a medieval ‘Spartacus,’ or ‘Gladiator,’ only with a bad ass warrior woman as a lead.
Red Sonja (Misty Lee) is a steel plated, bikini wearing, kick ass warrior chick. She has the personaly of a typical drunken warrior male, only she's a female. Sonja is asked to fight an impossible battle against a barbarian woman she once considered family named Dark Annisia (Becca Storm). By the end of the battle, Sonja is beaten to the verge of death and left to ponder the events that have brought her and Dark Annisia along such different paths. She then sets out to regain her strength and get her bloody revenge.
I don't think you could find a comic book with as many strong female characters as Red Sonja. Sonja is as strong a female as they come; we learn as part of her back story that she was a slave being forced to fight for the crowd’s enjoyment (a la ‘Spartacus,’ ‘Gladiator’). In fact, all the female characters in this film are bad ass warrior women, and that normally isn’t something you see every day in comics. For the most part, the voice acting by Misty Lee conveys the raw emotion that rules Sonja’s personality.
My one problem is a huge one, and that is the fact that this is a motion comic, which comes with a whole lot of drawbacks. There is no way to do this comic justice without buckets full of bloody violence. But it is all undercut by the fact that we are watching the literal comic frames with slight animation. This is a story that screams for an epic feel, and a motion comic does not have that feel. Every battle and every fight in this movie is stymied by the fact that this is a motion comic, to the point where it is crippling toward the feel this story wants to convey.
I love everything to do with the plot and most of the voice acting here. The conflict between Red Sonja and Dark Annisia is a captivating one. In most films, a series of coincidences leads to two characters who once cared for each other losing their way. But that is not the case with this movie; they have a clash of ideals that cause them to take much different paths. I feel like there are major motion pictures that can learn from this (I'm talking to you ‘Batman Vs Superman’). But there are some serious problems related to being taken out of this movie whenever there is any type of action, due to the fact that this was lazily made into a motion comic. Anyone who is looking for a kick ass story with strong female characters would kill for a full major motion picture of this story, or at the very least, a fully animated production. It is a damn shame that this is a motion comic because all of the epic feel is sucked out of it and just comes off as a cheaply made cash-in on the recent comic book popularity.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Status
Shout! Factory brings ‘Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues’ to Blu-ray with a deceivingly cool slip cover which slips to a hardcover with better art work than the actual motion comic itself. Inside the hardcover is a Blu-ray copy of the movie to the right, and to the left is a one-page advertisement for this and other Red Sonja adventures, with the DVD copy of the film underneath it. Upon start up, there are skippable Shout! Factory trailers followed by a still image main menu with the same image as the box art.
‘Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues’ is out for blood on Blu-ray with a 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC encode that is adequate for what it is. Normally I don't like dinging video transfers for pre-production choices, but it is impossible to not bring up certain problems here. The fact that this entire movie is a motion comic shows the shoestring budget they were working with. Mouths are the only things that are animated in most scenes, and that is distracting. There are things that absolutely work in a comic that just don't translate on screen. I wanted to see a fully animated feature with the goriest action scenes ever animated with ‘Gladiator-esq’ blood, guts, and carnage. What I got was a neutered vision stymied by its budgetary choices.
This transfer isn't all negative because Red Sonja’s extreme color palette feels just as bold as Sonja herself. Certain frames from the comic actually benefit from the 1080P transfer, looking sharper than any of the original pages of the comic. As there are literal comic frames on screen, there is a dimensional quality that isn’t present in most transfers. But since the transfer is so basic, it better have something positive to showcase. As it stands, you can sense the lack of confidence in this production. It pained me to see the most bad ass warrior woman in comic history get held back by this lazy choice of making this a motion comic.
Red Sonja swings her mighty sword and misses with this DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track that, in my opinion, is unforgivable. Not to harp, but this is an epic story that I would love to hear in at least 5.1 surround. It would take a little imagination and some TLC, but that is what the art of sound design is all about. What is even more curious is that the DVD copy of the film that comes in the same set has full 5.1 audio. There is a frustrating and unimmersive quality to this stereo track that is another damming blow to the overall experience.
There isn't much to say about an action packed story that is stuck with a 2.0 track. Audio is clear, audible, and at a generous volume. The sound field is limited to the two front speakers but the crossover between left to right is marginally effective at times. Unfortunately, this could be the best damn stereo track on the market and this would still be heresy in my mind. If the fact that this is a motion comic is a damning blow, this audio track being in stereo is the nail in the coffin.
The Making of Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues (18:33 HD) - This is a great Featurette that shows how passionate the team of voice actors and the writer of the comic, Gail Simone, were about this source material. It is a shame that her vision wasn't allowed to be fully realized.
Picture a classic movie like ‘Braveheart’ or ‘Gladiator.’ Picture the grand landscapes of those films, and the larger than life battles that stick in your mind forever. There are glimpses of that in this movie, and it has potential to be just as memorable. This is a story that, if you see past the scantily clad outfits, features females as strong women that could kick any one’s ass just by looking at them. This is a story of two women at odds with each other over clashing ideals. Both want their bloody vengeance. Unfortunately, that story screams for a higher production value than motion comic visuals and a 2.0 stereo audio track. I would go on day one to see a live action version of this (that isn't a Brigitte Neilson, Arnold Swarzenegger abomination), but as for this current iteration, it just doesn't live up to the story's potential.