MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

THREE GUYS AND… A MOVIE

series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson

“MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE”

written by Dominick Cappello

POSITIVE:

At the center of the universe, at border between the light and the dark, stands Castle Grayskull. For countless ages, the Sorceress of Grayskull has kept this universe in harmony. But, the armies of darkness do not rest and the capture of Grayskull is ever most on their minds. For those that control Grayskull will come the power, the power to be supreme, the power to be almighty, the power to be MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.

What? You didn’t grow up in the 1980s and don’t know how awesome He-Man is? Well, sucks to be you. Of course, a hero is only as good as the villain whom he opposes. Skeletor, the Lord of Snake Mountain, played by Frank Langella, showing what a magnificent performance an actor can give even if his face is covered in prosthetics. No CGI needed. He makes an epic entrance. Entering the throne room, driving his staff into the floor, creating an echo with ever ominous step. By his side is Evil-Lyn, played by Meg Foster. She co-starred in another one of the greatest 1980s movies. John Carpenter’s “They Live” (1988).

Skeletor has captured the Sorceress of Grayskull. The darkness is rising to embrace her. He lets the people of Eternia know via hologram that the war is over. There are few left who can stand in his way. Lucky, they can all rally behind He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. There’s no mention of his backstory as Prince Adam. He-Man is played by Dolph Lundgren. His most famous roles are as villains in movies such as “Rocky IV” (1985) and “Universal Solider” (1992), but this time he gets to be the hero. He-Man and company rescue Gwildor, a locksmith and the inventor of the cosmic key. Once again, if you’re not a 1980s kid and can’t immediately recognize the tones that sound when the key is activated, then you’re not as cool as I thought you were.

The cosmic key can open inter-dimensional portals. While attempting to rescue the Sorceress, He-Man and his companions are surrounded by Skeletor’s minions, giving them no choice other than to escape through one of these portals. They end up here on Earth. In a quaint suburban neighborhood. The cosmic key is discovered by an aspiring musician. His girlfriend is played by Courtney Cox. This was several years before her friendly sitcom success. She is mourning the loss of her parents. They were killed in a plane crash. A story thread which will have repercussions later on. Ironically, the Sorceress is played by the same actress would be the mother of Courtney Cox on that mega-hit NBC show. You know the one I’m talking about.

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Skeletor sends a curious quartet of mercenaries to Earth to find He-Man. Beastman is the only one who you’ll recognize from the cartoon or line of action figures. The mercenaries attack Courtney Cox in a high school gymnasium, but she is saved by He-Man. The mercenary who looks like Gill-Man from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) is vaporized by Skeletor because of their failure. The boyfriend character is constantly hassled by a cop played by the principal from “Back to the Future” (1985), but I don’t think he calls anybody a slacker in this movie. Evil-Lyn is sent to Earth to oversee the capture of He-Man since she is the most competent of Skeletor’s lackeys. She poses as Courtney Cox’s deceased mother and lures her into alley where she can steal the cosmic key. Yes, that was the same trick used by Dark Helmet in “Spaceballs” (1987). Make your jokes.

With the key secured, Skeletor and his army invade Earth. They ride on hover boards and He-Man hijacks one for himself. Our noble heroes are surrounded and Courtney Cox is gravely wounded. He-Man has no choice but to lay down his sword and surrender himself so to save his friends. He-Man’s companions are marooned on Earth with no way back to Eternia because the key was damaged in the fight. This is bad news for Courtney Cox. Oh, by the way, her character’s name is Julie. The only one who can cure her is the Sorceress. Kevin, the boyfriend, uses his skills as a keyboardist to help Gwildor program the key and return to Eternia.

Meanwhile, He-Man has been enslaved by Skeletor, but he refuses to kneel even when he is struck by some sort of lightsaber whip. Alright, that’s a pretty cool weapon if I do say so myself. With the Sword of Grayskull now in his possession, Skeletor because a golden deity with a headdress that had to be so uncomfortable to wear. Still, He-Man will not kneel. Skeletor is obsessed with him kneeling. General Zod syndrome. The cosmic key reopens the portal between the two worlds and He-Man’s friends come to his aid. He-Man reacquires his sword, proclaiming “I have the power!” He-Man and Skeletor duel. Their final battle. Every other character inexplicably disappears, so it’s mano a mano. Skeletor is defeated and loses his newfound powers, but he tries to be sneaky and draws a sword that he was concealing underneath his cloak. They tussle some more and Skeletor is knocked off a bridge and seemingly falls to his death. Villains always fall to their deaths. Especially in the 1980s.

The Sorceress is freed and cures Julie. Julie and Kevin are sent back to Earth, but with a blue orb that will always remind them of Eternia. Not a bad souvenir. Gwildor has another gift for them. He sent them back in time to when Julie’s parents were still alive, so she steals their plane tickets, saving them from disaster. She reunites with Kevin and with the blue orb they take one last look at Eternia. He-Man reminds all that he has the power. Call me overly nostalgic, but I’m fond of this movie even if I do wish that they had spent less time here on Earth and more time on Eternia. Oh, spoiler alert, there is a post-credit scene where Skeletor emerges from purple water and declares that he will return. But, sadly, there was no sequel.

– Dr. Jelly

NEGATIVE:

The Cannon Group? The people who cut the budget for “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987)? Fuck me. What a bunch of hacks. “Masters of the Universe” was also released in 1987 and has slightly better production values than “Superman IV”. Hey, instead of producing two painfully mediocre action / adventure films, how about use that same amount of money to produce one decent action / adventure film? Makes sense to me. Oh, and don’t even make a film where you can travel from one world to another by playing a keyboard because that’s beyond idiotic.

You know what irks me most about this film? Besides how bad they want to be “Star Wars” (1977)? They travel to Earth. That’s typical Canon Films. Them being cheapskates. He-Man and company make first contact with a cow. Lame. Eternia itself seems to just be an endless desert with a single throne room, but heaven forbid the filmmakers be creative and set a story on that world. I’ve heard that the first draft of the screenplay was written by the same guy who penned “Supergirl” (1984). And, you already know what I think of that movie. Does the He-Man character even translate to live action? I’m not too sure. Hell, you should probably just stick with the cartoon. Nobody on the cartoon ever took a break from the action to steal a bucket of fried chicken. It wasn’t even product placement. These numbskulls used a fictional fast food restaurant, so the scene was pointless.

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Okay, even I’ll admit that Frank Langella was pretty badass in this film. Skeletor rocks. But, is it really that hard to upstage Dolph Lundgren? I mean, how many lines did he even have in “Rocky IV” (1985)? Three or four? The man’s tongue didn’t come through customs. And, what can I say about Courtney Cox and her doe-eyed performance? Hmm… Is it a compliment to say that I had naughty thoughts about her all throughout the 1990s?

Oh, and don’t you dare judge me. I know you’re reading this and acting all superior. You’re no better than me. Hypocrites. We’re all hypocrites. They only difference between me and you is that I’ll admit the truth. Just like you have to admit that Evil-Lyn posing as her dead mother is ridiculous. How feeble minded is the Julie character to fall for that? I can’t decide who I dislike more. Julie or her boyfriend. He was a whiney little shit. I wish that Beastman had torn him to pieces.

After a lot of wasting time on Earth, they return to Eternia and Skeletor gets an unnecessary makeover. He turns into some sort of gaudy Las Vegas showgirl version of Skeletor. The Super-Shredder from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze” (1991) looked more intimidating. I despise the fact that Courtney Cox gets to go back in time and save her parents. How dare she alter anyone’s destiny even if she does love them? Isn’t that messing with the space time continuum or something? And, what about all the other people who died in the airplane crash? They’re still going to die. Does she do anything so save them? Nope. This isn’t much of a happy ending. The proposed sequel to this film was reworked into “Cyborg” (1989) starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Believe or not, that movie is even worse than this one. Borderline unwatchable.

– Dr. Frisbee

INDIFFERENT:

Raise your hand if you played with He-Man action figures as a kid. Heck, most of my childhood was spent playing with overly tanned, buffed up men in speedos. Which is somewhat weird now that I think about it. That’s why all the accusations towards He-Man being a homoerotic character and the immature jokes mean nothing to me. Grow up, people. The “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” franchise started as a toy line by Mattel, then became a cartoon. There’s an urban legend that the first He-Man action figure was meant to be “Conan the Barbarian” (1982), but then Mattel balked when they saw how violent the film was. Honestly, I think that’s only a legend and nothing more. But, it makes for a cool story.

Five years later, we were treated to a live action film directed by Gary Goddard and starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. What? No Orco? No Battlecat? No Merman? Well, I guess those aren’t deal breakers per se, but seriously, those cheap bastards over at Canon Films, those hucksters, really missed out on an opportunity to make something truly epic. I’m not sure if I’m pulling for a reboot though. The sense of adventure might be sacrificed for something dark and gritty as per most reboots. They’d probably make Skeletor look all bizarre looking like they did with Dr. Doom in “Fantastic Four” (2015). Can you imagine?

The score was written by Bill Conti. Some have criticized the opening of this film for being a little too similar to “Superman: The Movie” (1978). But, to that I say, why the heck didn’t the opening of “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987) look this good? As far as all the clumsy action set pieces go, I wonder, are Skeletor’s troops meant to be robots? I was never too sure about that. They just seemed to be a bunch of inept henchmen. The only difference between them and the imperial storm troopers from “Star Wars” (1977) is that their armor is black instead of white. They’re equally as useless in battle.

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As a kid, I was really freaked out by the scene where Evil-Lyn puts the collar on Kevin and forces him to speak the truth. I’m not sure why, but it just unnerved me. Maybe it was his odd electronic voice? Oh, but how amazing is the Sword of Grayskull? I should really keep up with my swordplay. What’s the coolest thing to yell while wielding a sword? “I have the power!” or “There can be only one!”? I guess that you could say “I have the power!” at the beginning of the duel and “There can be only one!” after you’ve vanquished your opponent.

I think most fans of this film already know the story of the kid who won the contest held by Mattel to have a cameo in the film and all he does his hand Skeletor his staff. His face is unseen and he is billed as Pig-Boy. At least he was able take a photo with Frank Langella and Meg Foster so he could prove to his friends that he was actually in the movie. As the film progresses, the Sorceress ages at an expediential rate. The makeup reminds me of Geena Davis in “Beetlejuice” (1988). Not much is made of Evil-Lyn sneaking off during the climax. I suppose that the filmmakers were already thinking about a sequel. Well, lesson learned. Don’t plan too far ahead. Is the death of Skeletor a tad too similar to The Emperor’s in “Return of the Jedi” (1983)? Yeah, but what can you do?

Like my colleague, I’m not a big fan of the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle “Cyborg” (1989), but would have preferred it much more had it been a sequel to “Masters of the Universe” with He-Man returning to Earth after Skeletor brought about an apocalypse. It’s too late for a sequel, but fingers crossed that the inevitable reboot is not too bleak. Movies can be fun. Please, by the power of Grayskull, not all reboots have to be grim and miserable.

– Dr. Rochester

Author: Dominick

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