‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ review: ‘Ator, The Fighting Eagle’

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000
Season 12, Episode 6
“Ator, the Fighting Eagle”
Available on Netflix
GRADE: A-

If Cave Dwellers (AKA Ator, the Invincible) taught us anything, it’s that nothing much matters in an Ator film. He can beat John Saxon bearing two swords or none. He can defeat giant Spider Muppets. He can woo any chick (including his sister) and then just shed them like a snake sheds its skin — and if that doesn’t work, he just lets them die. Here, we get Ator’s origin story. He’s born with a Sideways Batman tattoo on his shoulder, so he’s destined to fight crime on the treetops of whatever the hell Middle Earth hellpit he inhabits. Alas, there’s a Spider-Man–er, GOD (please don’t sue me; I am but a humble blogger) who rules everything who Ator MUST defeat…lest he…um…sheds his human form and…becomes a lemur or something, I have no idea how these things work. But, HO! His trainer was the REAL Spider God THE WHOLE TIME. It’s like Iron Man 3 and Batman Begins without Shane Black and Chris Nolan. And that’s just as nightmarish as I’m making it sound. Luckily, Ator wins and Good prevails and the world got three more Ator films. They were the adventure films we deserved…but didn’t really need right now. Or ever.

The cast and crew of MST3K has always had balls in that they constantly strive to top themselves. In Season 3, they topped Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with Season 5’s Santa Claus — only to falter when attempting to top the brilliant Mitchell with Final Justice in Season 10. MST3K alumni Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett have attempted to cover some of their older material with new riffs — and mixed results. When Joel Hodgson and company announced they were going to riff the Ator film that came before Season 3’s immortal Cave Dwellers, I was excited…but only cautiously. I’m not saying I am disappointed in “sequel riffing” or attempts at riffing similar material. It’s just that the sophomore efforts are rarely as good as the first attempts.The verdict for Ator, the Fighting Eagle? I can tell you that the riffs are spot on. If Jonah and the Bots were boxers, they come out of the first round, swinging and hitting so many riffs, I actually had to stop recording gems. The humor does have a slight lull near the middle but picks up again moments later. The riffing centers on the ludicrous plotting and tiny budget the filmmakers were working with. The first third of the film is an A+ riff session, especially with the treatment of the weird angle where Ator marries his “sister” who really isn’t his sister. The whole thing is creepy — especially the way Miles O’Keefe leers at the actress playing Sunya. It makes your skin crawl. Anyway, I cannot and will not spoil the rest of the riffing. The absolute classic is Crow’s riff on the Spider God puppet which he dubs “Snufflelantula”, a line so hilarious, I had to pause the show a couple minutes so that I could stop laughing. Take a look at the gems below if you want a sample.

The skits continue to be the bane of this show’s existence. The Invention Exchange is cute, with Jonah inventing a Swiss Army knife that pairs the right cheese with whatever you’re eating and Kinga inventing a snack bazooka (something that was done in the early seasons). The two sketches are somewhat lackluster. The first one sees Crow playing Griba, Ator’s trainer, as he trains Jonah/Ator but beyond the situational humor of it, the only pay-off is Crow accidentally taking out Tom who inhabits a suit of armor. The other sketch is far funnier — though frustratingly shorter — involving Ator’s pet grizzly cub wreaking havoc on the bridge of the SOL. The sketch ends with Kinga and Max taking the bear off the SOL, only to see Kinga taking the bear away from Max who just wanted to teach it talk and read and be human. But let’s discuss the ending.

Look…Netflix is a strange thing. They axed Iron Fist and Luke Cage. All right, two points. But, then, they nailed Daredevil. That was today. That show wasn’t brilliant but it was the best MCU property on their network of shows. This season was just as good as (if not better than) Season 11. Sure, Hodgson and the crew of MST3K have some issues to iron out (Growler and M. Waverly need to go, stat) but this season really didn’t have a “bad” episode in the entire bunch. So why, oh, why does this season feel like good-bye? Maybe it’s the sense of finality via the show’s narrative: Jonah and the Bots are sent to Earth, albeit, as slaves for an “MST3K Live Tour”. Kinga not only thinks she’s beaten Jonah and the Bots but the entire Netflix viewing audience. And then, we finally get our payoff: Jonah and the Bots have sabotaged the gear holding each film tube so that it transports Kinga and Max into a theater so that they can sit through 10 seasons of experiments foisted upon Joel and Mike. Sure, the ending might be slightly more satisfying than what we got from Comedy Central or SyFy (I still can’t get my fingers to type that without a fight), but it also feels like Joel giving the series an out in case Netflix drops the hammer.

Ator, the Fighting Eagle is a joy to watch. While the skits need work, the riffing is on par with Cave Dwellers (come at me, bros) and proves that the show is timeless. Season 12 has been one of the most entertaining, fun seasons I’ve been lucky enough to watch. I thank you very much for reading my reviews…and, hopefully, we’ll see you next year with an all-new set of episodes!

And, now…this episode’s gems:

(Credits show Miles O’Keefe’s name.)
SERVO: Remind me: just how much “Keefe” is in this movie?
JONAH: Oh, hush…

NARRATOR: Now, the Kingdom of the Spider shall last 1,000 years…
SERVO: Spider years…
NARRATOR: …and the people shall suffer 1,000 years…for it is written…
CROW: No…it’s not…
NARRATOR: …that this time shall be known as the Age of Darkness…
JONAH: Ok!
NARRATOR: …for the shadow of the Spider shall be the law…
SERVO: Sure!
NARRATOR: Indeed, the people shall pay tribute to the word of the master…
JONAH: Fine!
NARRATOR: …for, it is also written that the Spider King will reign until the day the mountains speak forth in anger…
CROW (as NARRATOR): OR BOREDOM!
NARRATOR: …and out of the darkness, the prophecy re-lives…that Toran casts his seed upon the wind…
JONAH AND THE BOTS: EWWWWW…
NARRATOR: …and even in death, to him, is born…a SON!
SERVO: Uh, Jonah, is every prophecy a run-on sentence? I’m asking for a friend…

(ATOR’S MOTHER gives birth to him. It’s a really extremely close close-up of her face we see.)
CROW (as the NARRATOR): …and there was no room at the manger for the camera!

NURSE: The baby’s head is out!
JONAH: Is it attached to a body…?
CROW: “The Real Mid-Wives of the Atlantis”!

(ATOR is pulled free. He cries.)
GYPSY: Congrats! You’ve given birth to a beautiful 22-pound baby boy!
MID-WIFE: He has The Sign of Toran!
M. WAVERLY: That means he gets to visit Toran’s chocolate factory!
MID-WIFE (To MOTHER): Take him! Take your son!
GROWLER: Put him back in there! NOW!
MID-WIFE: May the gods forgive you!
(ATOR’S MOTHER holds him as he cries.)
JONAH: Should he have a full set of adult teeth already…?
(Jonah and the Bots chuckle.)

(ATOR’S MOM cradles ATOR in her arms and rubs the top of his head in an awkward manner.)
CROW (as ATOR’S MOM): Where’s the “OFF” button? Is it here…?

(A TARANTULA climbs up something.)
CROW: The Itsy-Bitsy Spider climbed up the…what…? Something…

(ATOR speaks with his FATHER, BARDAK.)
ATOR: Uh…father…you see…I would have told you sooner…
JONAH (imitating Ator): …um, uh…
ATOR: …you remember how our…
JONAH (imitating Ator): …uh…
ATOR: …our…
JONAH (imitating Ator): …uh…
ATOR: …ancestors…used to…
JONAH (imitating Ator): …uh…
ATOR: …allow marriage…between…
JONAH: …a man…and a box turtle…
BARDAK: Ator, you don’t know how really happy you make me…
CROW (as FATHER): You’re saving me a dowry!
ATOR: Well, then you’re saying…
SERVO (as ATOR): …Mom’s YOUR sister?!
ATOR: …you’d allow me to marry my sister?
BARDAK: She is NOT your sister! (he stands up)
JONAH (as FATHER): In fact, no one is! YOU CAN MARRY ALL OF US!
(SERVO giggles.)
CROW: YAAAAY!!!
(BARDAK walks to his MOTHER, NORDYA.)
BARDAK: Come here, Nordya! Come here!
NORDYA: What is it, Bardak?
CROW (as NORDYA): Do you need some acting?
BARDAK: Ator…and Sunya…want to marry…
NORDYA: He knows…?
BARDAK: Yes, I just told him…
SUNYA: You mean he’s not my brother?
BARDAK: No, my child, he is not!
SERVO (as SUNYA): Well, then, I’m not interested!

(GRIBA trains ATOR how to fight.)
SERVO: Wait until they get interrupted by Griba’s 6:30 student and it’s just a 3rd grader in a Karate gi.

(GRIBA shows ATOR how to slice at things using a sword. He swings at a candle several times.)
CROW: JUST BLOW IT OUT, DUMBASS!

(INDUN and her tribe practice fighting. They are paired off and fight.)
JONAH: Mean Girls 2! RAGNAROK!

(The giant spider slowly stalks Ator and a woman tied to a spider web.)
CROW: It’s Snuffle-lantula.

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