Masters Of The Universe (1987): Breakdown by RANTBO
A barbarian, an old man, a woman and a midget team up with two teenagers to do battle with an evil league of monsters lead by a skeleton, whose lust for power could bring destruction and darkness to the universe. ~cough-cough~ Oh, man… that’s some goooood shit.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Dolph Lundgren is He-Man
A man so manly, He must have Man in his name. It’s quite a trick to pull off being imposing while wearing a cape and loincloth with nothing but leather straps in-between, but Film He-Man pulls it off. With a head-strong, never-give-up, never-surrender attitude and the medieval-meets-spaceage fighting prestige to back it up, his badassitiude never comes into question. Strange, I know, but it’s my true opinion. In fact, Dolph’s version of He-Man instantly made me forget about what a giant fairy his cartoon counterpart was. With deep Viking vocals, a lumbering walk and combination blade/blaster/bruiser fighting technique (his 40+ kills don’t hurt toward validation either), he’s the (he-)man. And all without losing the strong homosexual presence of Prince Adam. In short, Lundgren was a rare perfect casting and it’s a crying shame there wasn’t more time spent on him and by proxy, that glorious Swedish mullet. So much so, it’s fitting that they dropped He-Man And The from the title of the picture, as he’s barely in the fucking thing. Something I’ll bitch more about later on…
Frank Langella is Skeletor
Skeletor: Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man. Is it equal to the loneliness of evil?*
To repeat, Frank Langella is Skeletor. How weird is that? Granted, back in 1987 Langella hadn’t exactly wowed the world with his acting endeavors, but looking back now it’s almost laughable. And by that I mean, laughably awesome. Even cooler, Langella has gone on record as stating that playing Skeletor was one of his favorite roles. And the product expresses as much. Langella courts the role as though it were Shakespeare, chewing the scenery like Trap-Jaw. And with a face covered in silly, yet surprisingly good make-up, a sparkly Sith hooded robe and a pimp-stick to bitch-slap all pimp-sticks, his look is just as gloriously over-the-top as the performance.
Yet due to a lack of funds and, subsequently, time, Skeletor’s role is not much more than pointing menacingly, sitting stoically and yelling. And as such, he doesn’t really get to do all that much until just before the credits, when he transforms into Super-Skeletor, and performs an understandably awkward fight sequence (due to the ludicrous costume change) that doesn’t really live up to how imposing Frank portrayed the character in dialogue and mannerisms. However he does electrocute one of his subordinates to neon dust with the force magic, that was pretty cool.
*Frank actually wrote that shit.
AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE:
Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill are Julie Winston and Kevin Corrigan
Groan. Terrible. Simply, terrible. In all actuality, I should have posted these two under the above HERO section, as sadly they’re the protagonists who the filmmakers chose to follow for the majority of the film. But I refuse.
So, badass? Not even close. For starters, Kevin and Julie seem to share a brain. And an underdeveloped one at that. Not to mention the right one never seems to have it when the real heroes could benefit from a little home-planet assistance. And while K&J’s consistent meddling and atrociously illogical decisions all but spell doom for He-Man and crew are reason enough to dislike them, the worst thing about their characters was the filmmaker’s actually expected us to care about their overbearing emotional and relationship troubles. Fuck that. I hate them both and wish they had died.
Jon Cypher and Chelsea Ford are Duncan and Teela
He-Man’s right-hand-old-man-at-arms and some woman who follows them around, these two complete the triangle of the Eternia resistance. No wonder they needed the help… OK, to be fair they aren’t all that bad. Especially Teela, she looks pretty good in that skin-tight gray jumpsuit. And now that I think about it, Duncan did eat the SHIT out of a bucket of chicken. That’s pretty B-A. And despite his age, and her gender, they both manage to hold their own in a laser-shootout and even manage to assist He-Man in killing one or two of Skeletor’s minions. And they also get major points simply for not being complete fuck-heads like Kevin and Julie.
Billy Barty is Gwildor of Thenur
More annoying than anything else, Gwildor is essentially the catalyst for everyone’s strife. To counteract this his species (the character’s, not midgets), comes equipped with a high-pitched voice, a dis-proportioned body and fur as a cuteness defense mechanism which keeps everyone from simply killing him. You know, just like babies. Or midgets. Hence my annoyance.
The builder of the cosmic key (amongst a bunch of other crap), Gwildor proves to be useful (read: the bane of everyone’s existence) with his magical engineering skills and superior intellect. So, needless to say, he is far from bad-ass. One could argue that he does fashion together a pretty sweet pimp-mobile (that for some reason or another has the same sound effects as the DeLorean from Back To The Future), but the fact that his face looks like cow-flop ups his creepiness factor far too high for me to reconsider his badassitude.
James Tolkan is Detective Lubic
At long last, someone other than He-Man who’s not afraid to put foot-to-ass to save the Universe. Of course, Lubic has no idea that’s what he’s involved in doing, he’s just a hard-headed Jersey cop that wants these freakos outta his god damned jurisdiction. Plus he has to endure babysitting Kevin for the majority of the film. One sympathizes. Lubic makes it bearable for the audience though, as he’s the one character who treats Kev like the moron he is. Not to mention when inadvertently dragged along through time and space, he just racks his shotgun and unloads with a stream of curse coated bullets and in less than a minute does more for the cause than the rest of He-Man’s support combined. What a team player.
Meg Foster is Evil-Lyn
Because Sarah Douglas was busy. Seriously, they asked Douglas first. But if I had to go with another actress, I too would have asked Foster. She’s just so damn creepy. It’s those eyes, man. I don’t trust them. Like any good number two henchwoman, Evil-Lyn stands by Skeletor’s side and relays his verbose and threatening orders to the faceless minions and takes all the heat when they, of course, fuck them all up. Lyn tries her best at leading the masses, but the ineptitude of her staff is incorrigible. I wouldn’t really blame her for the constant failures, but then when she does take matters into her own hands, she only ends up succeeding in fooling Julie into handing over the film’s macguffin. But you wouldn’t reward B-A points to someone for duping a retard out of their candy-bar, would you? And such is the case with Lyn. Sorry baby, close but no cigar. Try taking on someone of average intelligence next time and we’ll talk.
Robert Towers is Karg, Tony Carroll is Beastman, Pons Marr is Saurod and Anthony De Longis is Blade
Bring out the B-Team. Karg is essentially number three, and as such a moniker would suggest, he gets the bronze on every mission. He fails in getting the item he’s sent for, fails in stopping the enemy from getting the item, BUT he does keep making it out alive to screw the pooch another day. But nobody roots for such a person. Plus, with that hair and that face and that pointless un-cool hook-hand, even if he were capable of something other than running away and lying about the circumstances, how could I possibly find him anything else but embarrassing? And same can pretty much be said about his elite troop of big, bad assassins; Beastman, Saurod and Blade. The Three Stooges of the Universe. Best I can say about them is, Beastman didn’t have two ferrets following him around, Saurod’s make-up was pretty cool and Blade made me laugh in that he was actually gayer in appearance than He-Man. Not only could the four of them combined not even come close to getting a drop on Dolph, but this motley crew couldn’t even outsmart Julie when she was trapped and in complete hysterics. Epic fail on all four counts.
This film really should have just been about He-Man teaming up with Jersey Detective “Strict-Man” Lubic to bring down Skeletor and the Masters of the Reagan Administration. Leaving all the other characters trapped forever within that terrible cartoon.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
While He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe was without a doubt THE gayest cartoon EVER made, the film pales in comparison. Which is another way of saying it’s still gayer than The Ambiguously Gay Duo. It’s odd that while so much of the cartoon’s concepts, characters and plot-lines were kept out of the live-action adaptation, they still managed to “pack in” the homosexual undertones.
He-Man spends 80% of the film in nothing but a loincloth-cape-boots and shoulder-pad combo and then the rest in just the boots and loincloth. As an added bonus, he is almost never seen without his over-sized blade of phallic death. And the small amount of time he actually does spend apart from his magical penis extension, he is in captivity and Skeletor has his bald chainmail-clad minion, Blade, give He-Man a thrashing with a neon colored light-whip. He pretends not to enjoy it. Tasty.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
While Evil Lyn and Teela are both assertive and powerful female characters, every inch they add to the progression of their gender being made more active and excepted within the galactic military is immediately defeated in the audience’s eyes by the earthling, Julie Winston. Silly, naive, impulsive, infantile and completely at the mercy of her emotional baggage, Julie is the personification of a typical teenage girl. Plus, she’s a dumbass.
With a one-track, woe-is-me mind-frame, her every decision is based on making herself feel better. And this, of course, backfires, as the moment in which she finally finds relief from her emotional crutch, it’s a trap and she completely screws over everyone with her irrational, hasty and selfish stupidity.
Then, at the end of the movie, Gwildor offers to send her and her equally moronic boyfriend back to Earth to any place and/or time that they want. Me, being a rational thinking male, would have at least given this offer a minute’s thought, but these two “just want to go home”. The gateway is opened and as they start to walk through, Julie, for some reason, starts to think. “Gwildor! Wait! Send us back before my pare…!” Oh yeah! Her parents died last year. Oops! Guess she should have thought about that shit when Gwildor had said ANY TIME, huh? Of course, even though she doesn’t deserve a happy ending due to her shocking obliviousness, she still receives one and I have one more reason to regard the female brain with contempt and loathing.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 70+ ]
Click HERE for the Body Count Breakdown
Who ever would have thought that a movie based on a kid’s toy would have a personal (meaning one-by-one deaths, not large un-violent catastrophes) body count of this caliber? Though 99% of the kills are spark-induced laser blasts and metal-on-metal sword cuts, with a few explosions mixed in for good measure, it’s still pretty gruesome for the target audience of 5 year-olds. No one on the good side with a name dies, so they own practically the entire count. Dolph himself manages a very nice 41 by his lonesome and the rest are divided amongst the other named heroes, with several randos going to the evil Centurians (Stormtroopers) in the overthrowing of Castle Greyskull. Not too shabby for a PG kids film, I must say.
MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING AND/OR DEATH:
He-Man liberates one of the Centurian’s hover-boards and uses it to take out the rest of the armada. For most of them he uses his high-ground to snipe the poor automatons with his blaster, but for one special fellow, He-Man unleashes the beast…
One touch of He-Man’s “blade” and the poor bastard explodes into fiery sparks of glitter.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
“Nobody takes pot-shots at Lubic!”
The moment goes to James ‘Strickland’ Tolkan’s Detective Lubic as he decides, fuck it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. After being unwillingly transported from the suburbs of Jersey to GreySkull (though how he can tell the difference, I don’t know), he is fired upon by numerous Centurians and he—gets—pissed…
Lubic: All right, freakos, you want to play games? Then Let’s Play!—(clack-clack BOOM! clack-clack BOOM!) Come On, You Mother!” (clack-clack BOOM! clack-clack BOOM! clack-clack BOOM!)
He wastes 4 of the bastards in rapid succession with his boomstick of disgruntled east-coast justice and decides, on the spot, that Eternia is the place for him. No paperwork!
Now, while the above is indeed a great line, nothing can out-do the series’ standard and catch phrase of my childhood…
He-Man: I HAVE THE POWER!!!
Indeed you do, you gorgeous hunk of Space-Swede you.
The film opens with a most excellent exposition narration/crawl, that while making absolutely no fucking sense—is still one of the most awesome god damned things I’ve ever heard in my life. Just the fact that they bothered to even try and explain the backstory of a set-up so ludicrous is commendable. But then to follow it up by the amazing musical talents of one Bill Conti (Rocky)(having clearly stolen the theme from John Williams’ Superman score) makes the pre-credits prologue simply stellar. Problem is, much like Superman, the film only goes downhill from there…
Apparently while the credits rolled, an evil army of darkness lead by Skeletor captured Castle Greyskull and imprisoned a Sorceress that lives within. But all hope is not lost, as the Sorceress informs Skeletor that he has not won yet, for He-Man still lives. So the question becomes, who is this man of resistance?—This man that stands with defiance?—This “He-Man”? Well, turns out, it’s a sword-wielding Dolph Lundgren in a leather cod-piece. And the Action Gods have delivered again.
As with most children of the 80s, He-Man was a god to me. He lived inside a castle shaped like a skull, rode a giant tiger and battled a walking skeleton. All of which made him about the coolest thing to have ever existed—to a four year-old. But, who would have thought that 20+ years later, I’d still be watching in awe the man that brought him to life?
It’s fitting that this was Dolph’s first lead role, as it’s the one he was born to play. A tall, garishly dressed lout with long blonde hair and a penchant for shirtless combat. And much like the cartoon’s version, only responsible for 10 or so simplistic lines of dialogue. I ask you, who could have been prettier than Dolph? I mean better. Who could have been better than Dolph? Lundgren’s physique was more than striking enough to sell the character as a man not to be fucked with (or by, for that matter), but then you stick a giant broadsword in his banana hands, and forget about it. No one’s going to make fun of that hair.
He-Man, together with his good friends; Duncan, Teela (who action fans might recognize as the stewardess that seats Matrix in Commando) and Billy Barty, travel to Jersey (it’s cheaper to film there than in Eternia) with a fire-extinguisher-sized star-gate device to stop Skeletor, save the Sorceress and reclaim Castle Greyskull. Which is all fine and well, until this whole mess with the teenage love-birds gets introduced and completely side-lines He-Man AND The Masters of the Universe to follow them around. Big mistake.
I’m pretty forth coming with what I enjoy and what I don’t. And while I wouldn’t call Masters Of The Universe a guilty pleasure, as I feel no shame in openly expressing my enjoyment of it, I do understand that there really isn’t any good reason for me to like this crap. Now I LOVED He-Man as a kid. Fucking loved him. I watched the show, I collected the toys (which I still have), so I guess due to the small connections that remained unchanged in adaptation, I adored the movie. And even through its many flaws (a ridiculous plot, goofy acting, silly make-up, bad story, lame dialogue) it still managed to satisfy young Rant. And even though I am far less forgiving twenty years later, I still get a kick out of watching this flick, if for nothing else than the precious few scenes in which they got it right. Namely, everything with Lundgren and Langella.
And it’s fitting that they (along with Courteney Cox, 3000 Miles To Graceland) are the only people involved whose careers seemed to rinse off the stain the box-office bomb fallout left on everyone involved. The director, Gary Goddard and screenwriter, David Odell never really worked in film again. The producers Golan and Globus were hit so hard by the failure of this (along with the devastation Superman IV reaped), that they never fully recovered and it marked the beginning of the end of Cannon Pictures. The cast, outside of the previously mentioned three, all but disappeared. And so on… It’s sad, but when you watch the film, it makes sense.
Arguably one of the biggest downfalls (so far as critics were probably concerned, but went unnoticed to me until recent re-watchings) is the blatant, near disgusting rip-off job that the filmmakers pulled from the Star Wars Franchise. Examples:
– A blond-haired, sword-wielding, pure-heart hero: Luke Skywalker has become He-Man Sparkbleeder.
– A dark, sinister, cloak-wearing creep with lightning powers: Darth Vader and the Emperor have become Skeletor.
– Identical cannon-fodder evil guys: The White Colored Stormtroopers have become The Black Colored Centurians
– The helpful and wise comic relief little person: Yoda has become Gwildor
– There is a light side and a dark side: The Force has become The Power
– The small group of heroic fighters: The Rebels have become The Resistance
– The lame (yet endearing in the case of Star Wars), couple that unwittingly gets wrapped up in the conflict: R2 and C-3PO have become Kevin and Julie.
– The final battle takes place in a throne room along dangerous ill-designed walkways
– The wrinkly old cloaked bastard is thrown over one such walkway
Not to mention Masters features land speeders, laser guns, a ‘hey-look-we’re-all-cleaned-up-and-being-presented-with-awards-in-front-of-a-room-full-of-good-guy-soldiers-just-before-the-end-of-the-movie’ scene AND a poster drawn by Drew Struzan. So the lesson to take away from all this is that, if you’re going to take 90% of your project from other beloved movies in the same genre, you might want to make sure that the end product at least matches the original in quality, or have it be a straight up satire. Masters Of The Universe was neither. And when compounded with the betrayal felt by hardcore He-Man fans for not following the source material, the project was officially F.U.B.A.R.
For the most part though, I forgive it and the people involved, if for nothing else than pure childhood nostalgia. And when you understand what this film is, I think most action fans could get a kick out of it as well. Far more violent than it had any sense to be (once again, considering it’s target audience), death abounds in Masters. Sure, there isn’t any blood, but there are a shit ton of sparks, over-the-top death screams and explosions. Just like a live-action 80s cartoon—not He-Man, really, but close enough to the ilk that I think most can dig it.
Fun, exciting, and an unintentional laugh riot, my only real gripe remains that there is way too much time spent on those teenage dipshits and not nearly enough on He-Man. Something I would very much like to ask Lundgren about, as it’s unclear to whether or not it’s that he was featured too much, not enough, or at all that lead him to say that playing He-Man was his “lowest point as an actor” and that “Masters of the Universe was a kids’ movie” in which he couldn’t do much as an actor while “running around in swim trunks and chest armor”. And this coming from the guy who went on to make The Last Sentinel and Retrograde. Ouch.
But, despite what Dolph said and however bad it may be (read: is), I still recommend Masters Of The Universe to anyone that loved the 80s and thinks that the Star Wars films were in need of more action, more nonsensical plot-lines and more chiseled oily pectorals. Until next time, good journey, and may the power be with you.
P.S. An interesting fact: a script for a Masters Of The Universe sequel was written, but went on to become the script for Cyborg (1989). Kinda makes you wonder what was kept and what was added, huh? Only Albert Pyun knows…
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
“Live the journey, for every destination is but a doorway to another.” And if you find a giant musical television achievement award looking thing in a cemetery, don’t automatically assume that it’s just “…one of those new Japanese synthesizers.” It could end up being an intergalactic key to the cosmos. Or a dirty-bomb. Either way, best not fuck with it.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[X] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 18 outta 25]
Masters Of The Universe (1987) © Cannon Films, Inc / Review © AllOuttaBubbleGum.com and Ty ‘RANTBO’ Hanson