Masters of the Universe ★★★

Though I was mostly already out of my He-Man phase when Masters of the Universe hit theaters in 1987, I was still interested enough that I was able to coax my mom into taking me to see it. It was, of course, my first true disappointment as a moviegoer. This was the first time that I was the victim of Hollywood's mangling of something I cared about and enjoyed. It paved the way for my later experiences with Super Mario Bros. and Scooby-Doo, and it's why I felt such empathy for fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender when M. Night Shyamalan's debacle came out a few years ago.

It's strange, then, that I should have spent the $5 to pluck the DVD out of a bin awhile back (though not so strange that it's taken me this long to actually watch it).

Masters of the Universe, it turns out, is a brilliant commentary on the 1980's, satirizing Cold War xenophobia, urban decay, and sensitive race and class issues. Nah, I'm screwin' with ya. Aside from a couple of Russian jokes, none of those things are even remotely acknowledged. Race? Hell, there aren't even any people of color in the movie! Teela gets to be an action character without being shoehorned into a romance with He-Man, though, and she gets to wear pants (unlike the character's toy, cartoon, and comic book design), so there's that.

The first thing that becomes apparent within the first two or three minutes of the movie is that this was conceived and pitched as "Luke Skywalker is Superman!" and the second thing that becomes apparent is that the first thing that became apparent should have been that it was made on the cheap. The beast characters, such as Gilkor and Beast Man, are clearly the work of the 1980's. I can't necessarily fault the film for the limitations of makeup of the era, but just the same, they're not at all convincing to watch today.

The visual effects are almost all bad, even by 1987 standards, though Evil-Lyn's scanner that replays the fight between He-Man and Skeletor's mercenaries is actually kinda neat. And, I gotta admit: Skeletor looked great on his air chariot thing. He bears a closer resemblance to The Emperor in Return of the Jedi than to the Skeletor we knew, but it works. I remember as a kid being impatient for the movie to return to Eternia, because Earth bored me. Skeletor coming to Earth was one of the few parts I actually liked as a kid, and I liked it again tonight.

Oh, and the cast? Dolph Lundgren looks like He-Man...and that's where his contributions to the movie stop. Frank Langella, on the other hand, actually is quite good as Skeletor. His dialog is predictably loaded with cliches and monologues, but Langella knows what he's doing in a role of a ridiculously evil character. He played Nixon, you know. The rest of the cast falls in the middle, doing what they can with thin characters.

What's surprising about Masters of the Universe is that it isn't an origin story. There's no in-story account of how He-Man became He-Man, or what the nature of his rivalry with Skeletor is. Little of the lore established in the animated series or the comic books is even referenced. This He-Man doesn't even have the Prince Adam alter ego. The idea seems to have been, "Kids already know who these people are and their parents don't care; just get on with the action." Contrast this approach with that of Michael Bay's 2007 Transformers to better appreciate the daring.

I discovered tonight that if my mom hadn't been one of the people who left the theater when the end credits started rolling that this would have been my first experience with a post-credits tag. In retrospect, I kinda wish we'd stuck around for that. Oh, well.

Masters of the Universe Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#1123/1597)

Masters of the Universe > Igor --> #799
Masters of the Universe < Barbershop --> #799
Masters of the Universe > Overboard --> #599
Masters of the Universe < Breathless --> #599
Masters of the Universe > Paperman --> #549
Masters of the Universe > Moonraker --> #524
Masters of the Universe < This Charming Man --> #524
Masters of the Universe < Just Buried --> #
Masters of the Universe > Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me --> #520
Masters of the Universe > Pineapple Express --> #519
Masters of the Universe < Paul --> #519

Masters of the Universe was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #519/1597