Masters of the Universe (1987)



When I was six years old, there was no bigger hero than He-Man and his pals: the Masters of the Universe (bit of an arrogant name to be calling yourself, but whatever). I could not have been more excited that my favourite cartoon was making the leap to the big screen. Boy was I disappointed, this movie completely butchers what the animated series had established. This was apparently due to the movie rights being sold before the cartoon was made and at the time, He-Man was a very different character than he ended up being in the cartoon. Regardless, this live action He-Man adventure is not good and six year old Benny considers this crap fest one of the most significant bummers of my life.

The film opens on the planet of Eternia, where the evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) has just overtaken the Castle Greyskull, home of the Sorceress (Ross and Monica’s mother on Friends). Only He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his two most trusted friends, Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher) and Teela (Chelsea Field), have any chance of stopping Skeletor and sending him back to Snake Mountain with his tail between his legs. Skeletor was able to infiltrate Greyskull by using a cosmic key, invented by the comic relief, Gwildor (Billy Barty). He-Man and his friends find Gwildor and use another of his keys to get into Greyskull and try to free the Sorcerous. When the battle is not going their way, He-Man and his friends retreat using the key, which can open doorways to any time or place. The heroes end up on planet Earth and must find a way back to Eternia before Skeletor has sucked all of the Sorceress’ magic and can rule Eternia forever. The heroes are aided by two rambunctious teenagers (Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill) in their attempts to stop the villainous Skeletor.

This movie was such a balls up. Why did He-Man have to go to Earth? There is no other incarnation of the character where Earth is his destination, there was so much action to be told on Eternia, but it seems like all of the good stuff has already happened before the movie started. Seeing Skeletor break into Greyskull would have been entertaining. By far the best part of the movie is Frank Langella’s portrayal of the skull faced villain. I would have liked to see more of him. The rest of the casting leaves plenty to be desired. Dolph Lundgren tries hard, but it is quite obvious that English is not his first language. He does not have the charisma you would expect for someone like He-Man. He may look the part, but there is so much more to playing a character than that. The rest of the cast is filled with B grade actors and an up and coming Courtney Cox. She is annoying as the Earthling who meets He-Man and decides to help him get home. I would be keen to know if Cox and her future onscreen mother ever reminisced about this crap fest when Christina Pickles would guest star on Friends.

I really hope this isn’t the only big screen incarnation of He-Man we ever see. This character is ripe for Hollywood to make use of. There has been talk of a reboot for several years, but the movie always ends up in development hell. I actually thought a few years ago that it would be funny to see Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller play He-Man and Skeletor. If you were going to spoof the original series, a la the Brady Bunch Movie, I can’t think of anyone better than those two in the lead roles. Although, I would much rather see a faithful adaptation. There is a lot of fun that could be had with this series, and given the success of previous 80s mainstays like GI Joe and Transformers, I am sure that the general public would eat this up, too.

As it is, the Masters of the Universe is an insult to the animated series that preceded it. B grade casting and a weak story make this one of the more disappointing films in my collection.

Rating: F

My knowledge of He-Man is extremely limited. I know he exists, he has “the power,” and his arch nemesis is some dude named Skeletor, who I assume looks like a skeleton. I wasn’t even aware that Masters of the Universe was a He-Man movie until Ben informed me it was. It looked like a weird knockoff, and I thought the reason Ben hated it was because he wanted an official He-Man feature film, but instead got this. But no, he hates Masters of the Universe because it’s real and it’s lame.

I can’t comment on the authenticity of the characters or the portrayal of the locations, but based on everything else about Masters of the Universe I can say with confidence that it sucks. I know this was made in 1987, but I feel like the special effects should be a lot better. Everything looks fake or B-grade.

The dialogue and story aren’t much better. I know adaptations of “kid’s” properties have gotten more sophisticated in the past decade plus, so it’s unfair to compare this to something like The Lego Movie or The Chronicles of Narnia. However, this is just so bad that it’s insulting. Not everyone in the 80s thought kids were tiny idiots. There are plenty of movies made during that time that prove otherwise: The Goonies, An American Tail, E.T., Labyrinth. It’s just sad to see something like this that doesn’t seem to respect the source material enough to make it worth watching.

The one upside to Masters of the Universe is that the cast give it their all. Dolph Lundgren stars as He-Man. He’s all muscles and looks exactly like the two images of the cartoon I’ve seen, minus the bowl cut. Courtney Cox is an earth girl who gets caught up in He-Man and company’s battle. She’s adorable in her second film role, and her enthusiasm makes much of the film watchable. The best actor is Frank Langella, who plays Skeletor. He took the role because his then four-year-old son was a huge He-Man fan. He’s also the only actor who counts Masters of the Universe as one of his favorite films he’s worked on.

If I were a fan of He-Man, I would be terribly disappointed in this movie. Since I’m not a fan, I’m just bored and confused as to why this was made in the first place.

Rating: F

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