Director: Gary Goddard (USA). Year of Release: 1987
The planet Eternia, Castle Grayskull. The evil Skeletor (boo, hiss) has just taken over, and imprisoned the castle’s previous owner, known in the cast list only as “Sorceress of Castle Grayskull”. Skeletor is sucking off the life force of the sorceress, who we see visibly ageing. At the next moonrise, the Galaxy will open, bestowing on Skeletor divine powers. Don’t worry about any of that. Just sit back and appreciate Frank Langella chewing up the scenery as Skeletor.
In an act of nominative determinism, Skeletor’s backup woman is called Evil-Lyn. She wears bright red lipstick and piercing eyes and steals most of the scenes that she’s in. For day-to-day operations, though, Evil-Lyn is less important than Skeletor’s thousands of stormtroopers wearing black Star Wars cast-offs. The stormtroopers annihilate anyone who looks like they might get in the way.
Soon the only remaining resistance is a tiny band led by the equally nominative deterministic He-Man. He-Man wears skimpy clothes and uses a gun where necessary, but when the going gets tough he pulls out the massive sword hanging behind his back. His military strategy is to kill anyone in sight without suffering the slightest graze, whatever the numeric odds. Accompanying He-Man are Duncan and Duncan’s daughter Teela, although they’re just there to make up the numbers.
For reasons of Plot, everyone is in need of a Cosmic Key which extrapolates the distance between any two points as melody, and uses the sound to pick any lock. As it happens, such a key has been developed by Gwildor, a large-nosed, hairy leprechaun. But Evil-Lyn manages to sweet talk the Cosmic Key out of Gwildor. Never mind though, he has a spare. This is how all the main characters end up in California, partly because it’s cheaper to film fight scenes on familiar scenery.
Meanwhile in California, Julie is very sad because she feels responsible for the death of her parents who died in a plane crash after she didn’t fancy going to the beach with them. Incidentally, Julie is played by a young Courtney Cox, and it’s fun reading the reviews written when the film came out describing her as being famous for being “the girl from the Dancing in the Dark video”. Julie’s boyfriend Kevin is a keyboard player because, of course he is.
Julie and Kevin end up on He-Man’s side, but Julie gives away the spare Cosmic Key to Evil-Lyn, posing as Julie’s dead mum. That leaves them without a Key and unable to stop Skeletor taking over the world. If only they had someone in their party who was a keyboard player with perfect pitch and an accurate memory for a tune. Meanwhile they’re being pursued by a police chief who is close to his retirement but just needs one last round of shooting at people indiscriminately.
A lot of shooting takes place. Everyone returns to Castle Grayskull, where a lot more shooting takes place. It looks like Evil is going to conquer when, what do you know? Somehow Good triumphs after all. Julie and Kevin return to save Julie’s parents from that plane crash, the shooty police chief decides to stay in a more militaristic society, and I never quite got what happened to He-Man, but I’m sure he stayed available for any possible sequel. The End.
I worry that if I ever do decide to watch any of the Star Wars films, I’ll be expected to treat them, not as car chases through space, but as Great Art. Because there is something about Star Wars and its fans that cannot treat the films with any sort of humour – particularly when you’re talking about the first trilogy. And if your reaction to the previous sentence was to think “well actually, it wasn’t the first trilogy but the second one”, then that’s exactly what I’m fucking talking about.
All that I’m trying to say is that Masters of the Universe has no pretensions towards Saying Something Important. It is fully aware of its own ridiculousness and asks us to appreciate it on its own merits. This is very much a film where you get what you take to it, and which you’re much more likely to enjoy if all you’re looking for is just some silly fun. As it happens, I did want a little more than this, but could not begrudge those involved for producing exactly what they promised.
Yes, of course, Masters of the Universe embodies rampant commercialism – being based on toy figures, which themselves were based on a tv cartoon series. And maybe if I’d watched the cartoons as a kid, rather than seeing them as an opportunity to switch channels, then I may have been more precious about this. For all the advertising gimmick aimed at kids who knew no better, it does feel that there’s some heavy winking at their parents too.
There’s also a strong case that this is essentially a film for Incels, a couple of whom were in tonight’s audience, making a loud nuisance of themselves. These were the sort of guys who have a better relationship with comic books than with other human beings. They were the only audience members who said they’d seen the film before – and any sane person would watch it once and only once. But if you’re in the right frame of mine, that one time could be fun.