Masters of the Universe October 1, 2016
Masters of the Universe is bad, all right, but because its badness is inoffensive and because it is, after all, the film counterpart to toot the horns of the Mattel toy chain/kid cartoon phenom, I can’t take its setbacks as seriously as I’d like to. I’d be kidding myself if I strung along choice words for a movie bouncing off silly source material; why complain about the downfalls of cinematic brainlessness never meant to be brainy in the first place? Until I can decide if the naming of the film’s central villainess Evil-Lyn is kitschily brilliant or lame as hell, I’m not so sure I can write off Masters of the Universe as being thoroughly bad. Perhaps it’s endearingly bad, and that’s good enough for me.
Movies like this, anyway, are never supposed to be razor sharp. They’re supposed to be flashy and simplistic (though the film struggles in being the latter), all brawn without a hint of brain. It revolves around the race to attain the mightily powerful “Cosmic Key,” a fantastical creation able to conjure time and space manipulating portals however its user sees fit. Crafted on the planet Eternia by eccentric locksmith Gwildor (Billy Barty), the dangerous tool is stolen by the malevolent Skeletor (Frank Langella), who uses the device to seize Castle Grayskull and kidnap its ruling Sorceress (Christina Pickles) for his own gain.
His arch nemesis, the valorous He-Man (a Rocky IV fresh Dolph Lundgren), catches wind of Skeletor’s sinister actions and tries to stop him, but because the Cosmic Key has a tendency to go berserk in its methods of transportation, he, along with his gaggle of courageous sidekicks (Chelsea Field, Jon Cypher), is somehow sent to the less-grand-than-Eternia Earth.
The Cosmic Key escapes the clutches of both the good guys and the bad guys and lands in the hands of orphaned teenager Julie (Courteney Cox) and her boyfriend, Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill). Thinking that the instrument is a literal instrument — specifically a high-tech, Eurythmics shaming synthesizer — Kevin accidentally summons Skeletor and his minions, all of whom more than willing to turn Earth into a battlefield if need be. But He-Man’s got all the right moves, and Skeletor’s got a wing-woman with a punny name and henchmen who have might but not mind. The eventual victor’s unsurprising, but at least Julie and Kevin are given the chance to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
But that adventure is largely flavorless to behold as a viewer. Aside from the unexpectedly committed Shakespearean flair on the part of Langella, who looks less like a skeleton man and more like an anemic Jack Palance, the movie is all eye candy with shoddily shot action, to-the-point but otherwise bland dialogue, and subpar acting to encourage entertaining mediocrity. It’s a cult classic that’d maybe fall under the category of being So Bad It’s Good if it were produced by American International Pictures rather than the more prestigious Cannon Group, Inc.
But I can’t have everything I want, and I managed to enjoy myself regardless. I can excuse the way most of Lundgren’s dialogue seems to either be learned phonetically and/or retouched by the wonders of a sound booth, the way the fight scenes have all the tense power of a better-than-usual high school stage play, or the way the movie would be a hell of a lot finer if it stayed in Eternia instead of relocating. Because trash, especially trash that captures the most doltish aspects of its decade with vigor, is something I cannot resist no matter how hard I try. C+