In what is otherwise a pretty terrible film, Langella’s decidedly Shakespearean performance as the iconic He-Man villain is utterly magnificent.
When speaking with IFC back in August, Frank Langella declared that playing Skeletor in the 1987 film Masters of the Universe was, “one of my very favorite parts.” While Langella has gone on to build a legacy as one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, the three-time Tony Award winner and Oscar nominee does not receive nearly enough praise for his performance in the aforementioned, little-seen and critically panned He-Man film. His work as Skeletor is remarkable in its grandiloquence and its magnetic, Shakespearean power. Langella stated that he took the role because his son -who was four at the time- loved the He-Man cartoon and, more specifically the show’s central villain. But Langella took what was historically a rather cookie-cutter antagonist and turned him into a petpetually captivating, intensely eloquent, and impossibly charismatic figure. It’s a performance well worth revisiting.
We begin with one of the more subdued moments from the man with the sunken cheeks. But even the most low-key Skeletor scenes have a certain level of pulsing strength to them – a building cadence and force that underlies his monologues. Langella made the decision to play Skeletor with such a high level of grandiosity that -in lesser hands- could’ve been disastrous. But his commitment and command is stunning.
Your strength, where has it gone? Look at your precious sorceress, an old crone, weak, withering, dying. Are you ready to feel now, proud warrior? Do you hear? Alpha and the Omega. Death and rebirth. And as you die, so will I be reborn.
This starts off on a bit of a generic note for the pigmentally challenged villain, but Langella’s delivery knows no bounds in its ability to make weak dialogue divinely compelling. And his lyrical influence kicks in at :29 seconds with this beautiful, Shakespearean sonnet:
Madness? I demand the destitution, shame and loneliness of scorn. It is my destiny, it is my right. Nothing will deter me from it…When the great eye opens, the people of Eternia shall see you kneeling to me, just before you die…Yes you will! Yes you will! Or I shall reek unforgettable harm upon you.
This one is less about the lyrical content and more about the sheer power in delivery that Langella demonstrates. His intolerance for failure, his unwavering and brutal leadership, and that phenomenal voice – that yell. Nobody yells better than Langella’s Skeletor, nobody.
This is the best – this is just the best. As Skeletor harnesses the power of Greyskull and becomes, essentially a God, equipped with a beautiful gold ensemble, Langella’a performance hits its inevitable fever pitch of greatness. This two minute monologue, has moments of near whispers and fully-committed power-hungry stares of anticipation, followed by deafening screams of elation. His commitment here is astounding – from :24 seconds on his performance is so compelling and forceful you simply can’t look away.
Now, I Skeletor, am master of the universe. Yes! Yes, I feel it, the power fills me. Yes, I feel the universe within me. I am, I am a part of the cosmos, divinity flows, flows through me. Of what consequence are you now? This planet, these people. They are nothing to me. The universe is power. Pure, unstoppable power! And I am the force! I am that power! Kneel before your master! For you are no longer my equal, I am more than man, more than life! I am a God. Now you will kneel!
What more can one ask of an actor than what Frank Langella did with this role? Some may say his performance was over the top, and those people would be right. This performance is brilliantly over the top, it’s over the top in such a refined yet unhinged way that it just feels right. Sure, he was amazing in Dracula, The Box, Frost/Nixon, Robot and Frank and countless others, but what he brought to Skeletor should be enough to ensure that glimmering, gold helmet is enshrined in the Museum of the Moving image from here to eternity!
I will leave you with parting words of the man himself. And yes, I’m still holding out hope for a stand-alone Skeletor film.
by Jesse Mechanic