Masters Of The Universe (1987), or He-Man And Skeletor: Lovers?

25 07 2009

“Oh, no!”, you must be thinking. “Not another 80s movie! Not another muscle-bound bone-head hero showing us how physically inferior we are! Not another soundtrack composed ENTIRELY on keyboards! Not another Golan and Globus macho Israeli freak show! We can’t take it anymore, Eric!!!” Well, I hear you. But I already watched the movie, so perhaps these hilarious complaints could have been voiced earlier.

You know, I usually never see myself as an action-adventure kind of guy, but when the action and adventure is good, I’m usually obliged to enjoy myself. Any dumb premise can be made pleasant with enough invention and fun thrown into the mix. Hell, if Johnny Mnemonic had been more about engaging Cyberpunk action-adventure instead of that whiny titular fuck’s need to “download”, then I would have let it go scott-free. So when I see a movie based on a line of toys (i.e. Transformers), produced by Golan and Globus, starring Dolph Lundgren, and featuring jaunty Bill Conti tunes, I’m ready for some god-damn fun! Masters of the Universe, a film based off of the homoerotic toy line and subsequent homoerotic animated TV series, promises all these things and more. But what we end up with is a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, a hodgepodge of ideas from other good adventure films thrown together and made into a hulking and quivering mess of stale creativity.

So, here’s the story, in a nutshell:

Awesome, right? Only there is no Cringer following He-Man around. Or a few of those other side characters. And there’s no Prince Adam subterfuge. So the conflict between the EVIL Skeletor and the GOOD He-Man is being waged, with Skeletor pretty much winning at the beginning by taking both the Sorceress and Castle Grayskull. Whoops! Well, all hope seems lost, but fortunately the badass He-Man is making his way to the castle to stop this nonsense. Along the way, he and his useless sidekicks see a patrol of Skeletor’s Stormtroopers (they look like ripoffs of Imperial Navy Troopers in Star Wars), whom they dispatch quickly.The patrol carried a prisoner named Gwildor, who has this cool thing called a Cosmic Key that can take someone anywhere, anytime. He-Man shrugs that cool bit of info off and asks if Gwildor can get him into Castle Grayskull, which he can. Unfortunately, Skeletor has WAY too many Stormtroopers and overwhelms the small infiltrating party. The only choice they have is to escape and regroup, which they can only do with the Cosmic Key. In the scuffle, though, none of them know where or when they might end up!

And that’s officially when the movie ends for me. Because, OF COURSE, the time and place they end up in is America in the 80s. Who woulda thunk it? So we get about 45 minutes worth of filler as two goofy teenagers get mixed up into some intergalactic mischief and intrigue trying to help He-Man and Co. get back to Castle Grayskull. We eventually do get back to the fun and the fantasy (spoiler), but this was a huge drag on the film. I have a personal distaste with any fantasy film that seeks to ground itself in boring old real life. They all do it; The Neverending Story, The Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away, The Princess Bride, and even one of my personal favorites, The Fall. They all interchange reality in with the fantasy, severely undermining the immersive experience of the fantastic. With films like The Dark Crystal, Legend, or Dune, there is no narrator forcefully reminding us not to forget about the real world, which allows my mind to explore the possibilities of a fantastic world far away from my own. But 45 minutes of idiot teens thinking that the Cosmic Key is a fucking Japanese synthesizer and yelling one-liners as they’re being chased by baddies does not help me get into the fantasy mood very much.

As I said, a lot of these ideas seem cut from other movies. It’s like Star Wars mixed with Red Sonja mixed with Warriors of Virtue mixed with Howard the Duck mixed with Flash Gordon.  Imagine someone bottling the phrase WTF and giving you a sip every 4-5 minutes for ninety minutes. And the problem isn’t that the ideas come from bad movies; they’re just coming from the wrong movies. There are swords and hand-crafted armor in this film, but there are also Stormtroopers and lasers. WHY would you ever need a sword after the advent of the laser rifle? To be fair, I know that Flash Gordon did the same thing, but He-Man wants the sword; that’s his weapon of choice. I’m sure if it were up to him, Gordon would have just shot Ming in the head and have been done with it. But He-Man, in true homoerotic fashion, needs phallic symbol-on-phallic symbol action!

The other things I’m sure you can guess; the acting is bland and uninspired. Courtney Cox, in her first major role of any import, does not impress. I liken her to April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; cute but useless. Frank Langella slums it up to play He-Man’s love interest, Skeletor. His role is necessary but incredibly bland. I didn’t really enjoy his time on screen (although his speech about the loneliness of good and evil held brief sparks of originality). The make-up is somewhat convincing, but I can imagine that it’s not easy to de-flesh someone with a good amount still on their face. Dolph Lundgren is a big, muscular man playing a big, muscular man. ‘Nuff said. Billy Barty gets on the fantasy make-up again to play Gwildor, and while he’s no Screwball from Legend, I still enjoy Barty’s comic presence. He makes this otherwise un-fun picture fun, and that’s what makes a veteran like him shine more than these other whipper-snappers.

I’ve seen a lot of fantasy in my day, and while Masters of the Universe isn’t nearly as bad as others I’ve seen, its mediocrity is an affront in itself, considering the genre. The Bill Conti soundtrack is enjoyable, the special effects are pretty good, and it has a strong message about opposing EVIL, whatever that is, so it’s not all bad marks from me. But it could have done much better for itself, and all they had to do was take out the number one killer of all fantasy pictures; Earth, and its lame inhabitants. Oh, well. Thanks for trying, Golan and Globus, you weird Israeli dudes. BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL, I GIVE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 4 1/2 HOMOSEXUAL HERO-VILLAIN RELATIONSHIPS OUT OF 10! Now go out there and have a GOOD day!

Tomorrow is a complete mystery! I’ll figure it out soon, I promise!

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