Save Sonja: How MJ Bassett broke the reboot out of development hell

A reboot of Red Sonja spent nearly fifteen years in development hell before going into production last year with the director MJ Bassett (Solomon Kane) at the helm. Before Bassett signed on, the project had passed through the hands of directors Robert Rodriguez, Simon West, Bryan Singer and Joey Soloway, with Hannah John-Kamen, Rose McGowan and Amber Heard being considered for the lead role. Today The Hollywood Reporter posted an interesting article on how Red Sonja was able to escape development hell… and it basically boils down to a director’s enthusiasm for the material and a producer’s desperation to get the film made.

The 50-year-old Bassett says she has been borderline obsessed with Red Sonja since her childhood, and “I cursed every time they announced someone else (as director). I kept telling them, ‘When you switch again, let me know’.” And they let her know when Soloway left the director’s chair in the spring of 2022. Yariv Lerner, CEO of Nu Boyana Film Studios says Soloway “just didn’t feel competent to make the movie,” while Soloway says they left the project because they were inspired to direct a documentary series inspired by research they did while developing their take on Red Sonja. Regardless, when Bassett had the chance to pitch his version of the material to Lerner’s father Avi Lerner, he cut her off, saying, “Just make me a movie I can sell.So Bassett set out to do just that.

Bassett was not satisfied with the script Soloway and Tasha Huo had delivered, and ended up rewriting it a dozen times. As Bassett explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “the previous script was much more sexual politics. Obviously, in my personal life I am interested in it. But as a storyteller, I don’t think it’s interesting.She also removed rape from Sonja’s backstory, saying:I have no interest in fictional women who use [rape] as an engine of motivation. It is not a strong motivation. She is just a human being in the world of femininity.“This movie about a powerful woman isn’t about gender. Instead, bassett”wants Sonja’s journey to be an allegory for more existential questions about the survival of the species in the face of climate change.

The writer/director also felt that there have been so many different versions of Red Sonja in the comic pages that she was a “blank canvas”. Bassett felt free to bring his own vision to the character. As The Hollywood Reporter tells us, “The original Red Sonya of Rogatino first appeared in a story by Robert E. Howard in 1934, then was adopted as a Marvel character in 1973. She was a large-breasted, wasp-waisted, scantily clad warrior, a woman of extremes. Over time, other threads emerged to complement her legend. One involved the Marvel character Wolverine; another placed her in the future. In a comic book version, written by Gail Simone, Sonja was bisexual.” And while Bassett describes the character’s famous chainmail bikini as “snug,” she also confirmed that Sonja will wear a chainmail bikini in the film.

Matilda Lutz (Revenge) plays Sonja in Bassett’s film and gained 13 kilos of muscle for the role. Bassett cast Lutz because “She is a beautiful, bubbly, cool, committed young woman that people will want to see.“The Sonja she plays is a”woman alone in the world trying to survive in a very crazy environment.

Lutz is joined by Wallis Day (Sex/life) as Annisia, Robert Sheehan (The Umbrella Academy) as Draygan, Michael Bisping (xXx: Return of Xander Cage) as Hawk, Martyn Ford (F9: The Fast Saga) as General Karlak, Eliza Matengu (Thor: Love and Thunder) as Amarak, Manal El Feitury (Code red) as Ayala and Katrina Durden (Doctor Strange) as Saevus, with Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) in an unspecified role.

Red Sonja is produced by Jeffrey Greenstein, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Andrea Sperling, Yariv Lerner, Jonathan Yunger, Les Weldon, Joe Gatta and Tanner Mobley. Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short, Luke Lieberman, Nick Barrucci and Dorothy Canton serve as executive producers.

Red Sonja hasn’t secured US distribution yet, but we’ll share the news when release details are announced. In the meantime, let us know if you’re looking forward to Bassett’s Red Sonja by leaving a comment below. And to read more about the making of the film, click over to The Hollywood Reporter.

Red Sonja was previously brought to the screen in a film from 1985, where the character was played by Brigitte Nielsen. Here is Matilda Lutz as Red Sonja:

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