April 30, 2015

Revisit: Masters of the Universe

Now that we've heard Five Good Things about it, it's time to rip into this piece of shit.

With Star Wars VII: The Apology on the horizon, it may be hard to remember what it was like to be in the '80s. Star Wars was bigger than Jesus, and oh man the rip-offs just kept a-comin'. (Then again, Star Wars is still being ripped off in the '00s. Ah, the moar things change...) What else was big in the '80s? A little Filmation animated series called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, that's what. Well, maybe "animated" is a little strong, we are talking Filmation here. Based on a line of dolls action figures, He-Man was the story of a mild-mannered weightlifter locked in endless struggle with an animated skeleton wizard. Now if that doesn't say Star Wars to you, then you possess a modicum of decency, meatbag. If you're really into the '80s--and God help you if you are--you'll immediately realize that this movie should have ripped off Conan the Barbarian.

The plot, such as it is, in brief: On the planet Eternia, Skeletor (Richard Nixon), dressed in his finest Emperor Palpatine regalia, has finally captured Castle Grayskull, the home of the powerful Sorceress and the center of all Good in the universe. He was able to do this because of the Cosmic Key, a magical teleportation device invented by Gwildor (Noodles MacIntyre), the Odious Comic Relief alien, that allowed him to teleport his entire army inside the Castle, bypassing its defenses. As he drains the Sorceress's power, Skeletor waits for the Stars to Align So He Can Gain Ultimate Power, blah blah, you know the drill. The only hope for the forces of Good is He-Man (Ivan Drago), the ripply muscle-y barbarian arch-nemesis of Skeletor. He-Man leads the remaining resistance forces, apparently consisting entirely of two other people, Man-at-Arms (Major Dad's boss) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field). Skeletor, recognizing the power of the Key, also desires to eliminate Gwildor to prevent anyone else from having one. Unfortunately, for him, Gwildor already has another Key, and as the resistance and Skeletor fight for possession of him, he activates it, but without carefully programming the coordinates for a destination. Can you guess where He-Man and Co. end up in their random teleportation somewhere in the universe? Perhaps an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet orbiting a small, unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the galaxy?

Ah yes, it's the "fantasy heroes come to Earth" money-saving plot, favorite of tight-fisted movie producers the world over. Because the script says so, our four zeroes all end up in the same 20-square-foot area while the Key itself ends up miles away (?), where it's found by Kevin (Tom Paris), the boyfriend of Julie (TV's Monica), a high school senior with a painful past. Because the Key plays music when you key in coordinates for teleportation, Kevin, an aspiring musician, believes it to be some kind of synthesizer and monkeys with the buttons. This allows Skeletor to detect its activity using his own Key, and in a shot-for-shot, line-for-line copy of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader dispatches bounty hunters to track down Han Solo, Skeletor dispatches bounty hunters to track down He-Man. Fortunately for our zeroes, Gwildor has another doohickey that lets him track the Key as well, and so it's a race to get to Kevin, who has no idea that both an S&M bear and a coterie of Star Wars alien rejects are converging on his location. Along the way, Kevin picks up Mr. Strickland. Hilarity ensues.

Masters of the Universe sucks donkey balls. I've already mentioned that the movie follows the shitty comics nobody read rather than the hit TV show (whose day was already over by the time this turd flopped into theaters in 1987). I've already mentioned the shameless steals from Star Wars--the wardrobe (faux-Stormtroopers, Skeletor's look and use of Force Lightning), the plot points (bounty hunters, Skeletor falling down a never-ending shaft that's inexplicably in his throne room), the action sequences (hero uses sword to reflect laser fire back at his attackers). The acting is generally pretty bad. Among the heroes, and I shit you not, only Mr. Strickland provides anything like a fun performance. It's his standard schtick, but he does it well, and his character is the only likeable or believable one in the bunch, both in his initial skepticism of aliens and monsters and a magical teleporting synthesizer and in his subsequent dedication to getting the slackers to eat lead once undeniable proof is presented to him. As for the rest, Ivan is a charisma-free void, once again reminding the haters why Arnold Schwarzenegger was a genuine movie star. Ivan's He-Man is so flat and bland he fades into the background, something that should never happen to a character named He-Man, for Christ's sake. As the ass-kicking female counterpart to He-Man, all I can say is Chelsea Field is no Sandahl Bergman. I know the script doesn't give Noodles any funny lines, but his stupid "comic" voice doesn't help matters. When it comes to short actors, not only is he a looong way from Peter Dinklage or even Warwick Davis, he's down in the pig trough with Danny fucking DeVito. TV's Monica and Tom Paris and their soap opera crap belong in another movie entirely, and by God I wish they'd go back to it.

The only place this movie even begins to measure up to Conan the Barbarian--again, the '80s classic this movie should've ripped off--is in the villains. I've talked enough about the two lead villains. As for the bounty hunters, Beast Man is unrecognizable, more a cross between Chewbacca and the Wolf Man than anything inspired by the cartoon. Blade has a pretty good sword fight with He-Man, somewhat suckified by being ineptly shot and edited. Saurod, the lizard guy, is pretty creepy-looking (and so of course he's the one Skeletor elects to kill as punishment for the bounty hunters' initial failure). But, because this movie sucks, the villain that probably gets the most screen time and is the primary antagonist for much of the film is Karg, the most annoying and doofiest one of all.

Look at him. Fucking look at him. He's Gunner Nelson after 3 hours in a tanning bed. And he's got a hook-hand. That's a hook. Where his hand should be. In a world that has laser guns and teleportation across the goddamn universe. What is this guy, a fucking pirate of the high seas? All he does the whole movie is shout ineffectual commands at minions who are already doing what he's shouting at them to do in his gravelly voice that sounds like your great-aunt who smokes two packs of Marlboros a day. And no wonder nobody listens to him. He's like 3 feet tall, shouts incoherently while pointing off in the distance, and orders you to do shit you're already doing. Who made an Initech middle manager the head of a mercenary team? Boba Fett this guy ain't.

Masters of the Universe blew so hard it sent Cannon Films on the road to death. Good riddance, says I. There may be no film studio in history that produced so many shit movies as against not even a single good one while blithely continuing to soldier on. It must be pretty impressive, in a pathetic kind of way, to labor at making movies for 15 years without making even one that was worth a damn. Masters of the Universe may not be Ninja III: The Domination bad, but Christ, it's a slog.

Enough of that, I need a new target for my wrath against crap I liked when I was young and dumb. Hmm...you know, I did like Ninja III....

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