February 22, 2015

Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe: Number 1, Skeletor

Every Masters of the Universe review, contemporary and retro, will include 2 points. One, it's a piece of shit. Two, Skeletor is fabulous.

After hiring Ivan Drago, Tom Paris, TV's Monica, Noodles MacIntosh, and Major Dad's boss, schlock kingpins Golan and Globus decided they'd better hire an actual actor for at least one role. And, like another genuine actor surrounded by stiffs so wooden they had to fend off beavers throughout the shoot, Frank Langella understood exactly what kind of performance this movie needed and gave it a great one. I don't have much use for children, but thank God both Langella and Raul Julia had rugrats who convinced them to star in a shitty children's movie, because each actor's pitch-perfect camp is desperately needed to keep the audience from slipping into a coma.

Langella, slathered in what has to be the most immobile face make-up in the history of movies (that as a bonus makes him look nothing at all like an animated skeleton), still manages to give a performance that overshadows the entire movie. How the hell he can emote at all using only his eyes, voice, and barely imperceptible chin movements I can't pretend to know, but he creates a genuine comic book villain that no amount of low-rent stormtroopers or bad synthesizer music can contain. When Man-at-Arms responds to Skeletor's threat to kill the Sorceress by defiantly shouting "You dare threaten her life?" and Skeletor thunders back, "I dare anything. I am Skeletor!", you see that Langella, if only at that moment, really believes he's an evil animated skeleton wizard. And for that same moment, so do you.

Great villains, if there's nothing to balance them, warp the movie around them. So if you're going to have Hannibal Lector in your movie, you'd better have Clarice Starling, too. If you don't, then Lector takes over the movie and you realize you'd rather have the psycho villain win and kill everybody. As wonderfully entertaining as Langella is in the role, it's also irritating, because these clods don't deserve to oppose Skeletor. When Skeletor brings He-Man back to Eternia in chains, leaving He-Man's idiot friends behind on a primitive and tasteless planet, that's how the movie should end. Skeletor ought to win, if only because he's the only one having any fun at all. Kind of like Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Actually, exactly like that.

The best scenes in the movie, it's no surprise, are between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. I could write about them, but thankfully I don't have to. Instead, I'll just end this review with El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting doing it for me.

"Frank Langella looks like he's having the time of his life as Skeletor, unleashing all the Big, Hammy Evil...[Meg Foster] and Langella are so good at playing off of each other. Watching them, you get a much stronger sense of their characters' history together than anything in the script itself even faintly suggests, an impression of two people (for lack of a better term) who have known each other for years and have whatever passes among the diabolically evil and thoroughly untrustworthy for a strong and stable on-the-job friendship. Indeed, Langella and Foster get the best moment in the whole film, right after Skeletor interrupts an unexpectedly gentle interlude with Evil-Lyn in order to vaporize Saurod in the usual arch-villain 'making an example of failure' bit. Evil-Lyn, standing beside Skeletor’s throne, offers her opinion on how best to deal with the others, at which point Skeletor grabs her, drags her down to stand with the surviving bounty hunters, and informs her that she’ll be in command of operations on Earth from now on. 'I was not suggesting that I go,' she says, to which Skeletor retorts, 'Then you should not have spoken.' It doesn’t sound like much, but it's all in the delivery: Skeletor's sternly affectionate confidence in Evil-Lyn and her ability to accomplish what Karg could not, Evil-Lyn’s complete lack of confidence in the very same thing, the enormous danger inherent in having someone like Skeletor believe that you're good at your job."

So there you have it, Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe. There are any number of smaller things, too, like the fact that it provided James Tolkan a paycheck. (I hope you're sitting down, but he plays the role of a gruff, belligerent authority figure who bullies the young protagonist.) But these are the top 5, which are almost enough to redeem the whole misbegotten enterprise.

Movie still sucks ass, though.

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