Let me take you back to 1987. We’re in a basement, the carpet is a beautiful mix of orange and brown shag, stomped down so much that it may as well be hardwood. There’s a boombox in the corner that’s very, very loudly playing the Bangles. You’re going to want to turn that down. The walls are faux wood paneling, the kind of thing we use for floors nowadays. Come over here, yes I realize this orange couch looks like it was plucked out of a dumpster but have a seat. Watch out! Owch. That looked like it hurt. Yes, you stepped on an action figure, this is a basement in the late 80s, this is where they put children. You should bring it over anyways. Yes, the overly muscled man in an S&M outfit with the pageboy haircut is a kid’s toy. It’s important. Set it down on the coffee table here, next to the guy with the skeleton head.
Now, sit down and turn your eyes to the massive TV across from us, yes, it’s amazing how small the screen is for such a large piece of furniture. I’ll turn it on and throw this tape in the VCR. It’s a cassette tape. With a video on it. Are you old enough to be reading this article? Nevermind, just watch. Ah, there he is, the same overly muscled man with the pageboy haircut.
Yes, it’s very weird. I understand. But for a time He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was the most popular cartoon on TV, and it was also a toy line that rivaled anything out there. You remember Ninja Turtles? Power Rangers? Peanuts in comparison. The cartoon enjoyed so much success that it’s been rebooted twice in the years since. And on this day August 7, 1987 the movie comes out, and we’re going to see it. What article are you in? Bad Movies with Brad of course. Wait, don’t run!
Okay, sorry I had to throw you in the back of this van, but we’re here. What? It’s the movie theatre at the mall. Why does it look like the Fortress of Solitude from Superman? It’s the 80s, crystals and neon are in. Come on, we’re going to be late I got you popcorn. We’re seeing Masters of the Universe!
[Forgive the theatrics, but I couldn’t help myself, because for this edition of Bad Movies with Brad you can watch the entire film, legally on The Paramount Valut’s YouTube channel so join me at the movies, I’ll include a plot description if you can’t watch along. See you in two hours.]
To summarize, after a credit sequence ripped straight off of Superman we’re treated to the war torn landscape of the planet Eternia. Skeletor, badass, skull-headed lord of darkness, has just seized control of Castle Grayskull, source of all power in the universe. (The skeletal nature of the castle and the black robed villain who has invaded it, are coincidental.) The only person who can stop him is an oiled up guy in a cape named He-Man, played by Dolph Lundgren. He-Man, his friend Man-At-Arms (Yes, that is his name) and Teela, Man-At-Arms daughter. Man-At-Arms, I think has a name but it is not in this movie. The three of them stumble on Ewok-Concept-Art-Reject Gwildor who makes keys. In fact he’s made a Cosmic Key, which can open a portal to anywhere. That’s how Skeletor got into Grayskull and they use Gwildor’s prototype key to go to break in to try and stop him. In the process of having a massive fight with Skeletor and his army our oily hero and his friends escape through a portal to Earth. Yes, 1987 Earth. In fact, the entire previous paragraph only takes 15 minutes of actual screen time, we’ll be spending most of the movie on Earth with Courteney Cox. Yes, that Courteney Cox. You see Courteney Cox and her keyboardist boyfriend discover the key while He-Man and crew search for it. In true cartoon fashion Skeletor sends a bunch of goons to fetch it. These Goons are Beast-Man, Blade, Saurod, and Karg.
Predictably enough He-man and Co. wipe the floor with all four of them and manage to save Courtney Cox while her boyfriend is off with the key (it plays music, he thinks it’s a synthesizer.) The boyfriend, Kevin, is for some reason being investigated by Marty McFly’s principal who is out to get all the slackers as a detective now. They look for Courtney Cox who has befriended He-man while the other group tries to find the key. Karg and his posse go back to Skeletor who sends them back with more soldiers and his middle manager Evil Lyn (totally her name). Evil Lyn gets the key from Kevin, summons Skeletor, poisons Courteney Cox and helps Skeletor capture He-Man and take him back to Eternia. I’ll let you see how Kevin and Gwildor manage to get useful people back to Eternia to help He-Man, but that’s the basic idea. Once again, actual quotes from the movie for headings.
“I must possess all, or I possess nothing.”
It’s easy to see what the people who made Masters of the Universe are going for, since we’ll starting to go through it again now. Return of the Jedi had come out in 1983 and no one had really hit on the next big thing yet. Paramount and Hasbro looked at the toyline and said, hey Star Wars sells toys, we sell toys, we make this thing like that, we can’t lose! So everyone was quickly shoehorned into as many stereotypes from that movie as possible Skeletor went from a weasley, muscular villain to a growling Emperor analogue, all his henchmen become bounty hunters and he gets an army of black Darth Vader/Stormtrooper hybrids. Speaking of bounty hunters Karg by the way, is a joy.
Oh Karg, with your ermine cape and your Darth Vader/David Bowie/Captain Hook ensemble. By the way, you can’t tell from the picture but that’s a cape on top of another cape. We love Karg here.
The whole thing ends with a giant sword fight over a pit, and Skeletor falls into it. And you can see the studio’s fingerprints all over the film. Star Trek IV had just done pretty well, so I’m sure they insisted He-Man go to modern day earth, because it worked out so well in that movie. Unfortunately Paramount elected to make this thing for less than half of Jedi’s budget and well below Star Trek IV. Therefore, you have no effects to distract you from the overwrought dialogue and bad acting.
For instance, way too much of the script seems to depend on Dolph Lundgren talking. This is a severe weakness as anything more complicated than “I must break you” coming out of his mouth sounds like he just woke up drunk in the gutter. Acting was never really Dolph’s strong suit and he’s left on his own to do way too much of it. Also for some reason the main character of this movie appears to be Kevin who has no back story to speak of and is significantly less interesting than either Courteney Cox or He-Man. That’s really saying something by the way, as you’ll notice I haven’t called her anything other than Courteney Cox throughout this article. Her character is that uninteresting. Really, if they had just kept the whole thing on Eternia and followed He-Man around, you could have put up with Gwildor and the whole movie would have been so much better. And it’s a shame too because they had a big ace up their sleeve.
“Fool! You are no longer my equal.”
When I first thought of the idea of Bad Movie Heroes, I had one person in mind, I’ve been waiting for so, so long to share him with you and I absolutely overjoyed. Frank Langella has been in tons of things you’ve most likely seen, Frost/Nixon, The Americans, he’s played Zorro, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes. He’s in so much theatre that he doesn’t even really need to do movies. He certainly did not need to do Masters of the Universe. His son, however, loved He-Man as a little boy, and out of love, Langella took the part.
Every second Langella plays Skeletor, this whole movie turns into what the money grabbing executives wanted. When he speaks these cheesy, over the top lines, you can see what this movie could have been like given the proper budget, effects, and story. He treats this script like it’s Shakespeare and it is a joy to behold. I personally spend every second watching this movie saying, “Yes, yes, but can we get back to Skeletor now?” Even the makeup, which is so thick and bulky it would look ridiculous on anyone else, comes alive once Langella starts snarling and growling through it. If you read my rules of storytelling you’ll remember the speech that best shows this off, it’s from the end of the movie and I can’t think of anything better to close on.
That is all performance right there. If Langella had put on that performance in any other film he would be in everything.
Some of my Bad Movies are hard to enjoy The Room, Jonah Hex, these are movies where you take a wry joy in the experience. Some however, like Masters of the Universe are pure stupid entertainment. Is this a well made movie? Hell no, it isn’t. Does it contain one of the best performances ever? Oh yes, it does. So get a case of Tab, order some pizza, and make sure to save some time to head out to the arcade for a round of Galaga, because there’s no better way to celebrate 1987 than with Masters of the Universe.