Masters of the Universe [retro review]

“I HAVE THE POWER!”

The Scoop: 1987 PG, directed by Gary Goddard and starring Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, and Courteney Cox

Tagline: A Battle Fought In The Stars. Now… Comes To Earth.

Summary Capsule: He-man, Teela, Duncan and a little troll must travel to Earth to retrieve a cosmic key to defeat Skeletor and regain control of Castle Grayskull.

Andie’s Rating: When I was little and watched this cartoon, I wanted to be Evil-Lyn SO badly!

Andie’s Review: I just bought this movie about a week ago because somebody ordered it at Blockbuster and then decided they didn’t want it anymore. I forgot how much I really liked it. It’s such a fun fantasy/adventure movie. I think they did a nice job bringing He-Man and the gang to life. They should do this with more cartoons. I can’t wait for live-action Scooby Doo!

Anyway… Masters of the Universe tells the tale of evil doer Skeletor capturing Castle Grayskull on the planet Eternia. He seizes control of not only the castle, but the Sorceress too. So it is up to He-Man and his pals to take it back. When they first attempt to defeat Skeletor, they are forced to travel, via a Cosmic Key invented by a little troll named Gwildor, to Earth to escape Skeletor and his minions. On the way they lose the key and have to start looking for it before Skeletor finds them or the key. The key is found by two earthlings, Julie and Kevin. They evil minions find Julie and Kevin and the key, but He-Man, Teela and Duncan triumphantly defeat the bad guys and everybody lives happily ever after.

This movie is so cool because it has campy action sequences, funny characters, and Dolph Lundgren in nothing but glorified underwear. I’m kidding. Dolph Lundgren is actually the weakest link in the movie because while he is nice to look at it, he’s dumber than brick. His acting abilities are scary, they’re so bad! At one point he asks about the whereabouts of the Cosmic Key and Julie says that Kevin has it and Dolph tries so hard to look all concerned and he goes, “He’s in terrible danger.” being about as convincingly concerned as if he just said, “I like green beans.” Skeletor is definitely very scary, as are his little army of defenders. I was so freaked out by Skeletor when I was little, it was ridiculous. Between the Flying Monkeys in Wizard of Oz, the Wheelers and the Headless Princess in Return to Oz, and Skeletor in Masters of the Universe, I’m surprised I wasn’t scarred for life by the time I was seven.

Other fun characters include Teela. She’s a cool, ass-kicking female and her father Duncan is a pretty cool old man. Gwildor is kind of creepy, but he’s absolutely hilarious when he gets to Earth and starts discovering all these new things. The scene where he meets a cow and keeps trying to communicate with it is hilarious. Julie and Kevin are fun and it’s neat to see Courteney Cox in one of her earliest roles. There’s also James Tolkien, who was in like every movie from 1986/87. He played an officer in Top Gun, Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future and a cop on Earth in Masters of the Universe.

But my absolute favorite character is Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn. She’s cool for her costume and makeup alone! Her voice is also very cool because it’s low and seductive and scary. But what really makes her great is that she’s also very funny. When Skeletor’s minions tell her that they were defeated on Earth because they were outnumbered, she scans around with her “all-seeing” glasses things and says, “I see only He-Man. And a native girl. It must’ve been she who tipped the scales against you.” Evil-Lyn just plain kicks butt and it’s too bad she doesn’t get more screen time.

Masters of the Universe is a great adventure for everybody, but especially if you grew up in the 80s and were a fan of the cartoon. I watched the cartoon religously and my brother and I had most of the action figures. I was always so disappointed they never made a live-action version of She-Ra Princess of Power.

Justin’s Rating: Mullet Power!

Justin’s Review: While watching Masters of the Universe for the first time, a little part of my mind just went -snap- and I began to giggle and thrash about like a haunted madman. No worries, dear reader, that I lost my mind. Nay, I merely entered into a state of utter ecstacy by viewing perhaps one of the greatest movies of all time. Get behind me, E.T., your days of geranium-reviving charm are over!

Admittedly, it’s not the greatest story ever told, nor is the acting worth picking up the ol’ electronic pen and scribing a piece of electronic mail to your electronic mother. But there’s just pure lunatic genius present in this film that keeps topping great idea with greater idea, until it’s a massive, messy tower of crazy goodness. Let me show you what I mean.

We begin on the planet of Eternia — no one ever accused the He-Man cartoon series creators of wasting more than a fraction of a second on names — where Skeletor (Darth Vader) has beaten down the remaining freed people (the Rebel Alliance) and has now taken wing in his massive fortress of doom, Castle Greyskull (the Death Star). For reasons unknown, He-Man and his pals want the castle back, even though the words “Skeletor” and “Greyskull” go together like bologna and mayonnaise. It was just meant to be, people. Our pal Skelly has a face only a corpse could love, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the outfits of the good guys: He-Man as an over-oiled, caped, minimal-wearing Dolph Lundgren, spandex-and-headband-sporting Teela (Chelsea Field), and action figure-ready Man-At-Arms (a moustachioed Jon Cypher).

Although he won the battle for Eternia, Skeletor still has a bone up his butt, because he doesn’t have the ambiguous “power” to rule them all. Getting the “power” involves an overly complex scheme involving a captured Sorceress, a moon waxing or waning or becoming blue cheese, a “cosmic key” that plays notes and opens dimensional rifts, and He-Man’s sword. I’m not quite sure how all of these fit together, nor am I sure the writers had any clue. But they get a special bonus sticker for trying.

So, seeing the mere awesomeness of Dolph running around like a grounded Superman and using both a sword AND laser gun to vanquish the Stormtroopers (who are we kidding at this point?) would’ve made a decent flick. Fortunately for us, the filmmakers decided to turn the gonzo level to 11, open a portal from Eternia to Earth (Great quote: “Opening a dimensional door is relatively easy.” Sure. Easy. How many have you opened today?), and throw all of the good and bad guys into 80’s suburbia. Can you even comprehend, or start to imagine, how incredible that setup is? What if I told you that, on earth, the good guys team up with both Courtney Cox (yes, THAT Courtney Cox) and the bald guy who played Strickland in Back to the Future? Is it possible your head might just well ripen to a bursting point and overflow with lovely joy?

It’s so goofy, it works. He-Man, Skeletor and various toadies aren’t the most subtle folk in these new parts, but for some reason, no one actually lives in this town other than our three human characters. We see massive battles, actual parades of enemy troops marching down roads, hovercraft blasting cannons, and a beastly guy named Karg with horrid 80’s hair tearing up the place… and no one seems to even notice or mind. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it. You’ll become so saturated with lunacy watching this that by the time enemy troopers are blasting through a music store and our heroes are both firing laser guns back and trying to play music to open a dimensional rift and an evil magic chick is pretending to be Courtney Cox’s dead (and ugly) mother, you won’t bat an eye. You’ll be at home.

I could gush for hours about how terrific Masters of the Universe was; my wife sure wishes I’d shut up about it. He-Man cracks me up as Dolph acts with his muscles, hugs with his muscles, and blurts out the most hokey-sounding line in the bunch: “I… have… da POWAH!” In the other corner, Skeletor is a nifty villain, full of witticisms, nasty tricks, a penchant for whipping his near-naked foes and sheer contempt for his lackies. As He-Man got the worst line, Skelly gets the best: after someone says “You dare threaten her life?” Skelly gets to rebut with “I dare anything!” I need to say that more in daily conversation, for I really do dare anything. My only sadness is that many of the elements of this nostalgic cartoon are absent: Orko in particular, Cringer, and how He-Man transforms from wimpy Prince Adam into a quivering mound of pecs and biceps.

If, like me, you’ve never seen this film, then I envy you the imminent head explosion that will come upon its rental. MOTU should be taught at all major universities and colleges, for no reason other than educating us that while eating BBQ ribs might be “barbaric” to other worlds, but fighting with broadswords is still quite the trend.

"Let my muscles hug you."

Intermission!

  • Wondering where Courtney Cox’s love interest is from? It’s the guy who would eventually play Tom Paris on “Star Trek: Voyager”. Weird, huh?
  • The actress who played the Sorceress is Christina Pickles, who went on to play Courteney Cox’s mom on Friends.
  • “The center of the universe”? That’s pretty precise.
  • The Darth Vader helmets on the bad troopers
  • If they got laser guns, should you be fighting with a sword?
  • He-Man likes no clothes and lots of hot oil
  • Teela has a metal thong
  • The stormtroopers destroyed the gnome garden!
  • He had a secret passage into Greyskull? Then why the comic key to get in there too?
  • Good advice for any situation: “Monitor the frequencies”
  • Cow! Moo!
  • Loads of technobabble
  • Holy crap, Courtney Cox with horrible hair and a cowboy outfit
  • They like to say “sector” a lot
  • Karg has righteous hair!
  • Blade is an enthusiastic fellow
  • Why do the baddies retreat?
  • It’s Strickland from BTTF
  • He-Man really likes cuddling with the ladies
  • The cop’s reaction to the key
  • Evil-Lyn brought her SUV
  • The good guys always enjoy a hearty laugh
  • Music stores deserve to be destroyed
  • The bad guys have… HOVERBOARDS!
  • The Skeletor Parade
  • Skelly is a pretty good bad guy, but he doesn’t like philosophy
  • Duncan has a little bit of everything to fix stuff
  • Skeletor’s funky new headpiece
  • He-Man as “Samson”
  • Nice that the mood lighting changes for the final battle
  • Skeletor is really just the Emperor from Return of the Jedi, isn’t he?
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? After the credits, Skeletor’s head pops up from the lake and says, “I’ll be back!” which sets the stage for a sequel that was never made. However, a script for a “Masters of the Universe” sequel was written, only to be re-written and become the script for the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Cyborg.
  • Much of the movie, including the music store battle and the scenes with the villains marching triumphantly down a street, was filmed in Whittier, California. Many of the buildings in the downtown areas shown in the film are no longer standing, having been destroyed during major earthquakes in the 1990s.
  • Dolph Lundgren does all his own stunts in the movie.
  • Due to financial difficulties, Cannon Cinema made a decision to discontinue all filming 3 days before its scheduled end, leaving the movie in a quandary. All the climactic scenes were completed bar the final battle and resolution between He-Man and Skeletor. After 2 months, the Cannon Cinema executives allowed director Gary Goddard to film the ending in a complete, albeit rushed manner.

Groovy Quotes

VO intro: At the center of the universe, at the 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 evermost in their minds. For to those who control Grayskull will come the power. The power to be supreme, the power to be almighty, the power to be Masters of the Universe.

[after He-Man appears with Julie]
He-Man: Did you have any luck?
Teela: Not as much as you apparently.

[Kevin sees Gwildor the Troll for the first time]
Gwildor: If we dress like this, no one will recognize us.
Kevin: What the hell is that?!?!
Gwildor: See!

Man-At-Arms: Mmm… good food.
Teela: I wonder why they put the meat on these little white sticks?
Man-At-Arms: Those are rib bones.
Teela: You mean this used to be alive?
Man-At-Arms: Uh huh.
Teela: Ugh! Barbaric world.
Gwildor: It tasted good…

Skeletor: The Alpha… and the Omega… death and rebirth… and as you die, so will I be reborn!

Skeletor: People of Eternia! I stand before the Great Eye of the galaxy. Chosen by destiny by the powers of Greyskull! This inevitable moment will transpire before your eyes, even as He-Man himself bears witness to it. Now. I, Skeletor, am Master of the Universe! YES! Yes… I feel it, the power… fills me. Yes, I feel the universe within me! I am… I am a part of the cosmos! The power flows… Flows through me! Of what consequence are you now? This planet, these people. They are NOTHING to me! The universe is power! Real, unstoppable POWER! and I am that force! I am that power! KNEEL BEFORE YOUR MASTER! Fool! you are no longer my EQUAL! I am more than man! MORE THAN LIFE! I… am… a… GOD! Now. You… will… KNEEEEEL! KNEEEEL!

He-Man: I HAVE THE POWER!

Julie Winston: He-Man, Teela, Man-At-Arms…
Teela: Don’t say goodbye. Say Good Journey.
Duncan: It is an old Eternian saying. Live the journey, for every destination is but a doorway to another.
Julie Winston: Good Journey.

Evil-Lyn: Outnumbered? Outclassed is more like it.

Man-At-Arms: You dare threaten her life?
Skeletor: I dare anything! I am Skeletor!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Cyborg
  • Transformers: The Movie
  • G.I. Joe: The Movie
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