Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that this might be one of the very worst span of four weeks during one summer movie slate ever? It started with July’s Jaws: The Revenge and Superman IV: The Quest of Peace, and now ends with one of the more spectacular Cannon Films failures, Masters of the Universe.
The origin of how this movie came about takes root from the Mattel smash toy hit of the same name. Trust me, when I was little, everyone had He-Man toys. We’d walk around and ask each other if they want to play “He-Mans” and usually had our figures in tow at all times. We fucking loved this shit. What’s funny is that the toys were super cheaply made. For the most part, every figure had the same overly muscular body spray-painted different colors with different heads and different accessories or attachments. When you have a bunch of of the very same body for every male figure, it makes production costs quite a bit lower and gives you much more of a profit when these things sold like crazy hotcakes.
There were comics from DC Comics, a video game on Intellivision, and, of course, a super popular animated series on pretty much every day after school. Much like G.I. Joe and Transformers, the He-Man cartoon pretty much was there to only boost further sales of the toy line. But the popularity did not go unnoticed by Hollywood. It was only a matter of time that a live action movie would be produced.
And lucky us… It was Cannon Films that came along to deliver the goods.
Cannon was no stranger to big time flops of things that had no business being unsuccessful. Superman IV was an utter disaster. Over the Top starred the biggest star of the 80s, Sylvester Sallone, and was dead on arrival at the box office. A second dumpster fire Allan Quatermain film also pushed Cannon to the financial brink.
All of the movies listed above were also released in 1987. It was simply dud after disaster after shitcake slathered in body oil.
As kids, we were all overjoyed that He-Man would finally come to the big screen. We thought the Russian bad guy from Rocky IV also looked the part as well. So what could possibly go wrong? It’s really hard to fuck up what’s essentially a “swords and sandals” movie that has some sci-fi elements tossed in for good measure. I mean… Right?
As per the usual, I cringe when the Cannon logo appears on screen, but I think that’s just a natural gag reflex from watching lots of their movies over the years. At least they try to give some explanation for the silliness that is about to fuck your eyeballs in the face by giving you the backstory that whoever controls Castle Grayskull will have the power to be “Master of the Universe”. Skeletor, played by Frank Langella, comes in to get a situation report from the very fetching Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) saying that He-Man still leads the resistance against him but they should soon control Grayskull. We also learn that The Sorceress, who lives inside Grayskull, is held captive by Skeletor which doesn’t exactly bode too well for the good guys. I mean, other than Skeletor saying as much to all of Eternia by way of magical hologram communicator, I’m not exactly sure what her capture exactly means. We were given good exposition about why people want to control Grayskull, what it would do, and how Skeletor is waging a war and He-Man is fighting against him. These first four minutes are pretty good at giving you an entry into the world of Eternia and what’s going on, but the following few minutes don’t do much to clearly progress the story.
He-Man and his pals, Man-at-Arms and Teela, meet a dwarf who says he’s important to Skeletor. Our trio of heroes instantly trusts the little monster who leads them to his little cave house where he will show why he’s so important to Skeletor. To me, I mostly see him looking like a guy with a bad case of pork chop face.
So this little monster guy, Gwildor, has this cosmic key device. It’s a key to open passages to allow for people to travel quickly from one place to another. Skeletor already has one that has helped him basically concur Eternia. With Gwildor’s, he will basically be able to rule the universe.
So what is it, movie? Controlling these keys will make you Master of the Universe or controlling Grayskull will make you Master of the Universe? I’m beginning to think you don’t have a clear path through this plot.
Alright, well, He-Man and Skeletor have a brief face off when He-Man attempts to save the Sorceress. Gwildor is fucking about with the key which Evil-Lyn spots, and tries to cut a deal with the little runt to buy Teela for some kinky sex shit… Wait. That’s the movie I want to watch, not the movie I AM watching. Shit. After the brief battle, Gwildor opens a portal that leads him, He-Man, Man-at-Arms, and Teela to Earth.
Again… Exactly what made He-Man trust Gwildor? I mean, sure, okay, he clearly did not mean them any harm – because he’s tiny with really short arms and stubby fingers while He-Man is strong like ox. He does have this key that got them out of a scrape. He seems to know… stuff? Overall, though, what is it about Gwildor that is necessary to your mission? When I watched the cartoons, I hated Orko. I just didn’t like him. I thought he was an asshole. Sure, he may have known magic, but he was always fucking shit up. You’ve replaced that asshole with this little dwarf guy – who may or may not be an asshole of equal footing. There’s no fucking way he’s going to be an asset in a battle. Not with those little hands, that is. He’s a detriment to your mission. He should have never gone on the rescue mission and he didn’t seem to care for adventures anyway – as he actually stated when his little cave hovel home was ransacked by Skeletor’s army. He-Man or Man-at-Arms should have held a fucking gun to this little monster’s head and demanded he tell them how to use the key and then took it from him. Okay, they are good guys, so maybe drop him off someplace he won’t get killed, but do not take the fucking dwarf.
That’s a valuable lesson I will repeat just to point out its importance:
When on a quest to save your whole world DO NOT TAKE A DWARF WITH YOU. They can’t run. They can’t fight. They don’t seem to care much for adventure as per the actual dialog of this movie. Plus… He’s just being an asshole with his pork chop face.
After landing on Earth, He-Man and pals lose the key. As you do when you travel across space, time, and dimensions. Just as they were going to try to find the key to help them get back to Eternia, they encounter a cow. Instead of helping formulate a plan of how they will find the key, Gwildor decides to talk to the cow.
Nah, I’m mostly kidding. While Gwildor is inexplicably interested in communicating with a cow, He-Man does formulate the plan of what to do when they find the key. So at least someone is in charge here and not letting it spiral too far out of control thanks to the little fucking twerp with the monster face.
We then meet Julie, played by Courtney Cox who is wrapping up her last day at a burger joint before moving out of town. You remember her Masters of the Universe figure right? She had a whole team of cowgirl looking babes? They shot hamburgers out of their fists? C’mon! They were part of the second series of MotU figures that came out right when the figure line and the cartoon were at an all time high in popularity!
Julie gets picked up by her boyfriend, Kevin, played by the guy who was Tom Paris on Star Trek: Voyager. Kevin takes Julie to the cemetery to say goodbye to her parents who died previously in a plane accident. That’s… That doesn’t seem important to a Masters of the Universe plot. I mean, I guess it means something to the Julie character and gives her a history, but it’s really a strange thing to add to this sword and sorcery movie. In fact, one could say it is nothing more than a convenient character point to give Julie an excuse to buy totally into a grand adventure that may take her off Earth and into the stars forever. Another could say that she’s just a Luke Skywalker ripoff. Parental figures are dead, so she can join up with the band of otherworldly characters fighting for a grand cause.
She and Kevin become even more import as they find the missing key, but when Kevin fucks about with the key thinking it’s “one of those new Japanese synthesizers” it causes Skeletor and Evil-Lyn to zero in on its position to attack Earth to get the key for themselves. When they find what planet the key is currently found, Evil-Lyn assembles a crack team of Skeletor’s most feared warriors – Beast Man, Saurod, Karg, and Blade. Three of these feared warriors are not associated with the Masters of the Universe toys at all. That’s how feared they are.
Skeletor’s troops arrive on Earth and attack Julie who has been left alone while Kevin goes to show off the key to the guy who runs the music instrument shop in the town. Julie escapes a whole bunch of army guys AND the four big bad crack troops and runs into He-Man who basically defeats the bad guys single handed until Teela and Man-at-Arms’ arrival causes a retreat. He-Man tells Julie all about the battle against Skeletor and how they are looking for a cosmic key to get back home and win this crazy otherworldly battle. Julie just sits there listening to this story as if this is some normal business. He-Man’s description, though, does reveal to Julie that this is the key she and Kevin found. Kevin rushes back from the music store but is headed off by this guy named Detective Lubic who is going to help him find Julie. So now there’s a plain old, crotchety police detective mixed up in all this Eternia bullshit too, I guess?
Back in Eternia, it looks like Evil-Lyn is giving a blowjob to Skeletor while he ponders why there is still resistance from the people he conquered. I mean, really. It seems like there’s some funny business going on between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn in plain sight of the throne room guards. This isn’t debunked either by her adoring, almost bedroom-like talk about how He-Man is preventing people from submitting. It is even more so not debunked when his crack troops return from Earth and she moves quickly off her knees and he acts like nothing was going on before they came in. It’s cool Skelly… You can say you were getting a BJ from Meg Foster. I’d give you a high five for that if you’d just own up to it, bud.
However, when they report their failure, Saurod is killed and is replaced by Evil-Lyn – which totally extinguishes her fired up loins for that bony Skeletor dick.
Back on Earth, Lubic and Kevin get to Julie’s house. She calls to confirm that Kevin still has the key and tells him to stay put so she and her new friends from Eternia can arrive and explain everything. Lubic starts fucking about with the key which, again, gives away the location of the device. Lubic leaves with the key to try to figure out if Kevin is telling the truth about where he found it and what it is by, I can only assume, finding an Eternian technology expert in this podunk middle-America town they live in. Evil-Lyn and Beast Man attack Kevin. He’s forced to tell them what he knew of the key. They manage to leave just before He-Man arrives.
Oh, need another reminder why you DO NOT TAKE THE LITTLE DWARF MONSTER GUY on your quest?
Here’s something that I picked up on time and again in this movie. It’s a small thing. It’s almost subconscious in how it filters into your brain. There have been a ton of shots, both wide and medium, that are on cranes or high in the air or even down a street as a car passes by, where hardly another soul is seen. This movie supposedly is taking place on the last night of school. Julie mentioned earlier that her bus leaves in the morning before graduation. She isn’t even sticking around to get her diploma. Most of this movie is taking place at night, but not so late that shops and such are already closed for the evening.
There are two important things about this. First, the movie takes place at night to help hide any bad effects or costumes. That’s an old movie trick. Second, though, you can really get a feel for how cheaply this movie is made due to there being pretty much NO extras in this movie. The streets are practically… no, COMPLETELY empty. There are just a few cars parked in front of houses as well. There’s hardly anyone else in this movie that doesn’t have a speaking part. That’s a tale tell sign of a movie that is being made on the very tightest of budgets and schedules. Even in, what I can assume is meant to be based on every piece of evidence given us during this movie, a sleepy middle-America town, there should be some sort of life seen. But there isn’t. It’s like this town this takes place in is a ghost town. It’s like this thing that all these monster people with big, hovering tanks, and people in strange clothing, not to mention a giant muscle-bound gladiator guy walking around wearing hardly anything, has been noticed by no one. No one other than our main cast is affected by this at all. Without collateral damage, it’s kinda hard to really feel worried for anything when there are no consequences to this giant inter-galactic battle has broken out on Earth.
But I digress…
The heroes are bunkered in the music shop Kevin took the key to earlier and where Lubic decided to try to corroborate Kevin’s story about what it was and what is going on. Evil-Lyn’s troops arrive and a big firefight breaks out while Gwildor tries to figure out everything to get back to Eternia. Now, earlier, he said he just needed to hit a single button to return them. I guess that’s not the case anymore because he’s playing this thing like a shitty 80s band’s keytarist in a super crappy music video. While He-Man fights off the bad guys, Julie, like a goddamn moron, is tricked into giving up the key by Evil-Lyn impersonating her mother. Who’s dead. There’s no mystery behind her being dead. But no, Julie is told her parents were doing very secret work and had to disappear and she just buys it hook, line, and sinker. What a maroon. What a nincompoop. What a dummy.
Oh, and guess what… When Julie came in and snatched the key, Gwildor is unable to chase after her to stop her. You know why? See all that stuff I said above about not taking a little dwarf with you on your grand quests. That is fucking why.
He-Man and the good guys chase after the bad guys. Evil-Lyn, signals to Skeletor who comes through to Earth with a whole bunch more of his army. Among them are these guys who fly around on these little discs. It looks like shit. However, I will say one thing. The director said once that he was heavily influenced by comics made by Jack Kirby. In particular, he took some cues from Kirby’s New Gods from DC. Some New Gods used to get around on little flying discs. So, there you have it. (NOTE: The exact correlation to Masters of the Universe and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is still somewhat disputed. There was once a long standing rumor that the original script was to adapt the New Gods story from Kirby’s Fourth World stories, but when nixed, the movie became Masters of the Universe. That has pretty much been debunked by now, but director Gary Goddard is on record in several sources as saying he was, at least somewhat, influenced by Kirby and was glad people picked up on those connections.)
Skeletor captures Teela, Man-at-Arms, Gwildor, Julie, and Kevin.to set a trap for He-Man. He nearly fights through all the soldiers to get to Skeletor, but he’s given a choice – return to Eternia as Skeletor’s slave or he and everyone else can die on Earth. He-Man surrenders and is taken back. The others are left behind with their damaged key that Gwildor says cannot be repaired to send them home.
When Kevin reveals that he knows the tones used in the key, Gwildor starts to collect the items needed to make their key work – sigh… Despite saying he couldn’t repair the key, he’s repairing the key. On Eternia, He-Man is chained to the floor and forced to watch Skeletor take the power of Grayskull. On Earth, Kevin and Gwildor put the finishing touches on their key to get to Eternia. Julie is suffering from a poisonous strike from Skeletor’s magic and dying… I think? They seemed to think she was not going to survive but no one seems to care to take her to the fucking hospital to at least try to save her, so I’m sure she’s going to pull through.
Skeletor receives the power to become Master of the Universe. He gets a fancy new gold godly outfit and demands He-Man to kneel. On Earth, the key is activated and He-Man’s friends are transported to Eternia just as Lubic comes along and tries to arrest them like an asshole. During the battle in the throne room, He-Man breaks free from his bonds and fights his way to his sword where he holds it up, and says his “I have the power!” thing and is able to then battle Skeletor on an equal level. The battle between Skeletor and He-Man is… really badly shot. It’s basically just them swinging a staff and a sword around in a darken, backlit room that only lasts about 3 minutes before Skeletor is knocked off into a bottomless abyss. With him defeated, the Sorceress regains her powers and Eternia is freed from Skeletor’s terror.
Lubic suddenly has Eternia clothing and a young broad to fuck him and seems to be plenty happy just stay and fly a middle finger to Earth. Julie and Kevin are sent back to Earth. Gwildor says, “Yo, you sure you don’t want to travel back into Earth’s history? You know, I can send you back to any time you wish.” Julie says no, and starts to walk through the portal before realizing she can go back to before her parents left for their trip when they died. It’s a good thing Gwildor knows what’s what and sends her back to the morning before her parents left. So… Happy ending I guess.
Here’s the thing about this movie… It’s not that bad. It’s far from good, though. Don’t get me wrong there. On a base level, this wasn’t much different than some of the other sword and sorcery films of the 80s. They are stilted and they are kinda poorly acted and there are crazy ideas that are absolutely silly. However, take away the recognizable title, names, setting, and you pretty much have something seen quite often in the earlier part of the decade. I think the fact that this was called Masters of the Universe and it pitted He-Man against Skeletor probably set expectations higher than normal. It likely also set the movie up to fail if it was off center just a bit.
I’ll also go on record to say that I don’t think any one actor in this movie was particularly bad either. Most were serviceable for what they were playing. Even Dolph Lundgren as He-Man was serviceable despite being at a bit of a disadvantage not being a veteran actor with lots of lines in his previous roles. Frank Langella was truly amazing in this movie. He seemed to almost revel in being Skeletor. Whenever you have an actor who is playing a villain with such zeal and excitement, it can definitely make any movie a touch better.
It would also be interesting if this wasn’t a Cannon Films production, but instead something from Warner Brothers or Paramount. I think we would have seen quite a bit different casting and the movie would have probably looked much more polished with all its effects and sets being much better crafted. I think it’s safe to say this movie would not have primarily taken place on Earth. A larger studio knowing what popularity the cartoon had, would have very likely stuck much closer to Eternia with all the weirdos that are found there. I can’t say that the movie would have been any better as an end product, but at least it would have looked like something other than a cheap ass Cannon production.
That does it for this week’s B-Movie Enema. Let me tell you, I’m glad to finally be done with the year 1987 for this Summer of Anniversaries series. That was a rough summer for movies that seemed to be surefire successful properties. So, we bid adieu to the Jawses and Supermen and the He-Men and journey to 2002 for our next anniversary. It’s the first chance for me to talk about a Vin Diesel movie. So, let’s shake hands with EXTREME! with Xander Cage in xXx! See you next week!