If you’ve ever wondered what would have happened if Doctor Zhivago spent less time pumping broads and more time pumping iron, Atlas Against the Czar is the vodka-fueled delirium tremens Russian fairytale answer!
And like Doctor Zhivago author Boris Pasternak and all the other great Russian storytellers, director Tanio Boccia (who is technically Italian, but has a distinctly deliberate Russian style as evidenced by his use of dance scene only three minutes into the movie and then spending a full third of the movie concentrating on the Czar’s archeological expedition) explores themes common to Russian literature such as suffering, evil Czars, and of course greased up hunks!
The people of Russia are just like people everywhere in Italian sword and sandal movies! The head guy, Czar Nick, is a Soyuz-sized jerk face! He’s always torturing rebels, scheming for more power, and takes double crossing as a requirement of his office!
Why, no sooner does word reach him that the secret expedition he launched to find a lost civilization is on its way back, than he gives the order to kill the messenger and enlists his right hand man, Igor, to concoct a plot whereby mercenaries will attack the returning caravan so that no one will know about all the treasure! Except of course the mercenaries! But he can just have them killed, too! By other mercenaries! And then, well, that’s why he delegated all these pesky details to Igor, right?
But the expedition isn’t just returning with a couple of chests of lame necklaces, rings, and assorted tinkly doodads! There was something else in that cave! Something ancient and slumbering! Something with powers beyond all Russian imagination! Something with mammoth pecs! Something that can only be called…Maciste!
And just how did Maciste end up in Russia in suspended animation? Sure, you could ask that question and be frustrated by the lack of anything approaching a coherent explanation. Or you could just enjoy the scene where they revive Maciste by rubbing oil on his man boobs thus confirming my long held suspicion that it is the liberal application of bronzer and/or shoe polish which gives these various leather-skirted daddies their powers to deliciously dominate bad men everywhere!
One of the awesome things about this movie is how much play Maciste’s massive muscles get. Sensibly decked out in the typically tasty brown leather mini skirt Maciste fans positively ache for in these sorts of affairs, Maciste first displays his abilities to master lesser men when he fights off the mercenaries attacking the caravan as it returns to Moscow by chucking huge boulders at them! He later demonstrates his prowess with his hands and neck by bending a really heavy pillar-like thing that took three wimpy guys to even carry, all while the Czar looked on, no doubt hating himself for enjoying the show so much!
Czar Nick does what any red-blooded male would do once he gets a load of what Maciste can do – tries to make him do his bidding! Though Kirk Morris (The Witch’s Curse, Colossus and the Headhunters) is always at a loss for words, he does manage to indicate that he has a problem just going out and killing people simply because some closeted middle-aged guy tells him to.
Though the film has the standard “bad guy fighting rebellion” story happening, it takes a back seat to showcasing Maciste’s wicked workouts. How else to explain the bizarre test of strength Czar Nick demands that Maciste do in front of the whole city? Standing on a platform which is surrounded by blades, he has a team of horses trying to pull each of his glistening arms in opposite directions so that if he is pulled either way he gets sliced! Say what you want about Czar Nick, but he gets points for his creative male bondage!
As is usually the case in these sorts of things, when that ill-conceived and overly complicated scheme to get rid of Maciste fails, the equally stupid back up plan is hatched. Igor drugs the unsuspecting Maciste which puts him into suspended animation again. Even before the sexy rebel girl sneaks off to the old potion maker to get some antidote, you’re wondering why the moronic Igor didn’t use some poison that would have just killed the guy instead.
It’s not like Igor doesn’t have a back up back up plan though! With Maciste on the loose, the word goes out that two sexy chicks are going to be publicly executed unless some strapping stud prances in to save the day! Igor demonstrates how full proof the plan is to Czar Nick when he shows what will happen once Maciste ambles in the front gate that Igor left open just for him.
Except that Maciste uses the secret tunnel beneath the city! Igor is probably no longer looking at that promotion he was talking to Czar Nick about throughout the movie.
The muscle-intensive finale which has Maciste tearing up part of a cave, grappling with a giant, and moving a large wooden wheel to stop the execution is the perfect climax to a very solidly built entry in the genre.
The relocation of Maciste to Russia means that he gets to beat on dudes wearing different costumes than usual and the palace where Czar Nick practices his court intrigue is decorated in what an Italian set designer thinks a Russian palace might look like.
By the time Maciste hands over Czar Nick and Igor to the rebels for proper disciplining, reluctantly allows a girl to mount his horse with him, and receives the adoration of the townspeople while tantalizingly dressed again in only his leather skirt (he had traded it earlier for some pants and a snazzy vest), I was left feeling strangely drained, yet satisfied and looking forward to my next visit from Maciste.
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