As much as it pains me to tell you this, but the forces of darkness are about to take over the universe. You think I'm kidding? Check out that giant vortex swirling out of control behind the throne of that pompous dude in the blackish purple cape. Which one? They're all wearing blackish purple capes. The one with the blackish purple cape that looks like he shaves with a weed wacker. Okay, I see him. What about him? Well, like I said, he's about to unleash the forces of darkness, and it looks like there's nothing anyone can do stop him. You mean to tell me there's not one musclebound warrior, mustachioed man-at-arms, or Thenurian locksmith in the entire universe who is willing to intervene? Oh, sure. There are plenty who are willing, but most of them are tied up at the moment. What the universe needs, particularly the planet of Eternia, is a keyboard player. You have got to be kidding? You mean to tell me there's a movie out there where a guy who plays the synthesizer in his high school new wave band is the galaxy's last hope for salvation, and I'm only finding out about this now? What the fuck, man? And not only that, it's his synthesizer skills that are required to save the universe from a deranged overlord. Instead of feeling cheated over the fact that this film has existed unbeknownst to me for over twenty years, I'm going to embrace it tightly against my quivering bosom like it were a long lost panda. You heard me. I'm claiming, that from this day forward, that Masters of the Universe and I are best friends. Are you sure you're ready for this kind of commitment? I mean, you've only watched it twice. Let's just say that "I have the power," and know exactly what I'm getting into. You do realize that Courtney Cox, the least appealing "friend" from the television show Friends is in the cast? Yeah, I'm aware of that. However, you have got to remember that Friends didn't exist in 1987, and that the Courtney Cox featured in this film was simply the chick who famously appeared in the music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark." So, using you're dislike of anything or anyone Friends-related or Friends adjacent–Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, notwithstanding; that movie rules–as an excuse not to like this film is not even close to being acceptable.
Grand in scope, yet containing subtle moments of human frailty, Masters of the Universe scratched my cinematic cornea for myriad reasons. First and foremost, it sports a mystical realm filled with characters who are both heroic and evil. Wait a minute. I'm not a fan of movies like that. In fact, I usually despise that kind of kiddie crap. While I don't want to play my Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn card quite yet, there has got to be another explanation for the way I reacted to this film. Seriously, I haven't felt this giddy about a film in donkey's years.
Produced by Menahan Golan and Yoran Globus, the team that brought us The Apple and 10 to Midnight, and directed Gary Goddard, Masters of the Universe, based on the "media franchise" created by Mattel, is a live action film that tries to capture the majesty of the animated series produced by Filmation we all watched as small people. While I have vague recollection of the series, my memory pertaining to the conflict between the heroic He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and the evil Lord Skeletor (Frank Langella) on the planet Eternia is mostly based on the commercials for the toys that used to air around the clock during the early morning hours, as the line, "It's Castle Grayskull, and it's mine!" is seared into my subconscious.
In other words, my memory is a tad foggy. Nevertheless, you don't really need to be that familiar, nor have a history with the franchise to be able to enjoy the world that is recreated in this film. A world we're sucked into almost immediately, as we meet Frank Langella's Skeletor, a power mad despot who fancies himself the ruler of Eternia, a planet located at the centre of the universe. Marching into the throne room of Castle Grayskull, flanked by his shock troops, Skeletor seems pleased when his loyal aid Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster) says that is Castle Grayskull is ours. After correcting Evil-Lyn (he tells he that Castle Grayskull is not ours but "mine"), he finally takes the throne.
Now, you would think that Evil-Lyn, the sexiest, most alluring minion in all of Eternia, would be upset over the fact Skeletor contradicted her in front of his elite guards. But she doesn't appear to be upset at all. In fact, she seems to be smirking. It's almost as if she knows something we don't know. And that's part of the appeal of Evil-Lyn. As the smirk heard around the world was being coyly implemented, Skeletor was busy belittling his prized possession. Imprisoned in some kind of electronic force field, the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull (Christina Pickles) is at the mercy of her boney captor.
In case it isn't obvious, Eternia is at war, and with Castle Grayskull in the hands of Skeletor, He-Man, a warrior who fights evil for a living, isn't too pleased by this turn of events. Deciding to blow off some steam, He-Man confronts a small group of Skeletor's troops as they're making their way to Castle Grayskull. Using his fists, his sword, and the laser guns dropped by the troops he's already dispatched to work his way through their ranks, He-Man soon realizes that he might have taken on more than he can handle. Luckily, Teela (Chelsea Field) and Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher) show up just in time to blast the remaining troops with their trusty laser guns.
What I liked about this battle sequence is how they combined melee weapons with energy weapons. I mean, I was expecting sword play (He-Man is rarely seen without his giant sword), but the laser shootouts were a pleasant surprise, as I find laser blasts, especially the pink and red variety, to be aesthetically pleasing. Sticking with the things that please me theme, I also found the black outfits worn by Skeletor's troops to be well-designed, or, to put it another way, they were pretty fucking cool.
Free tip for all you amateur despots out there: If you want the forces under your command to remain loyal, give them uniforms like the one's Skeletor's troops wear in Masters of the Universe, as they will fight harder knowing they look like a bunch of bad asses.
Keen observers probably notice that the troops He-Man attacked were transporting something in some sort of net. What could it have been? Well, I'll tell you what it was. It was Billy Barty! That's right, the one and only Billy Barty is in Masters of the Universe, and he steals scenes with a breathtaking ease. Playing a master locksmith and inventor named Gwildor, Billy Barty (Skatetown, U.S.A.), who is wearing a thick of layer prosthetic makeup and a red fright wig, manages to bring some much needed humour to the proceedings. Anyway, after thanking them for rescuing him from Skeletor's troops, Gwildor takes He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Teela to his home to show them his latest invention, the "Cosmic Key," a device that allows people to travel to other worlds and dimensions simply by pushing a few buttons.
So, you can see why Skeletor would want to get a hold of the inventor of such a contraption. Actually, I have no idea why Skeletor would want to procure the talents of Gwildor. Don't you see? If Skeletor can travel to any time or place simply by pressing a few keys, that means no-one is safe from Skeletor's in your face brand of tyranny. According to Skeletor, he, and I quote, "must possess everything, or possess nothing." Most people will agree, that's a pretty lousy philosophy. But what do you expect from from a megalomaniacal cape enthusiast who doesn't have skin?
Using a secret underground passageway located in Gwildor's crib to enter Castle Grayskull's throne chamber, He-Man, Gwildor, Man-At-Arms, and Teela quickly find themselves in a laser gun fight with Skeletor's guards. On top of the sweet laser gun effects, the best part of this particular sequence was when Man-At-Arms, noticing that the Sorceress, a beloved figure on Eternia, is being mistreated by Skeletor, says something to effect of: "How dare you treat the Sorceress so shoddily." To which Skeletor replies: "I dare anything! I am Skeletor!" Fuck yeah you are.
Realizing that they're up shit's creek without a plunger or some kind of snake, He-Man tells Gwildor to use his cosmic key to get them the hell out of there. Unable to set specific coordinates, the foursome have no choice but to jump through the portal the cosmic key has created. Where they end up is anyone's guess, but we know, judging by the cow they come across, they've landed on Earth, "a primitive and tasteless planet," Skeletor's words, not mine. After Gwildor has finished clearing his gills (he landed face first in a bog), they split up in order to find the cosmic key (it must have landed somewhere nearby). As they're splitting up, I couldn't help but notice they all say "good journey" to one another as they part ways. I don't know 'bout you, but I like the expression "good journey," it has a certain understated sincerity about it that didn't make me want to gag.
Meanwhile, a young Earth woman named Julie (Courtney Cox), is taking her last order at Robby's, a fast food joint that specializes in fried chicken and ribs (the staff wear red and white gingham shirts with a blue handkerchief tied around their necks), as she plans on leave in a few days. Her boyfriend, Kevin Corrigan (Robert Duncan McNeill), a keyboard player, and, as we'll soon find out, a master songmaker, who is not pleased with her decision to skip town, yet he is trying to be supportive. Which he does by accompanying her to the cemetery to visit the graves of her dead parents. As they're leaving, they stumble, you guessed it, the cosmic key. Of course, Kevin immediately thinks it's some kind of newfangled synthesizer, but we all know that it's more than that.
When Kevin, like any keyboard player would, starts pushing the keys, Evil-Lyn begins to track its location using her own cosmic key. In the meantime, she instructs her minions to assemble the mercenaries: Blade (Anthony De Longis), a bald swordsman with an eye-patch, Saurod (Pons Maar), a lizard-like creature, The Beastman (Tony Carroll), a beast...man, and, my personal favourite, Karg (Robert Towers), a reptilian creature with beady eyes and a gray Dolly Parton wig. I don't know, I found myself strangely transfixed by Karg, as there was something about him that was oddly endearing. I think it had something to do with the fact that he looked weird and that he was the mercenary with the most dialogue, as the others merely make guttural noises.
As expected, when the mercs arrive on Earth, all hell breaks loose. It would seem that the fight for Eternia has come to Main Street, U.S.A., more specifically Charlie's Music Store, the place for all your synthesizer and keyboard needs. Well, it was the place until He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela (who declares herself "Woman-At-Arms" after an awesome display of raygun markswomanship), The Beastman, Detective Lubic (James Tolkan), a shoot first ask questions later cop ("Nobody takes pot shots at Lubic!"), and about about a dozen of Skeletor's crack troops get though with it. Let's have a brief moment of silence for Charlie's Music Store. And, while we're at it, let's have one for the brave Air Centurions (a special class of soldier who fly around on hover discs) who gave their lives for Skeletor's misguided cause so selflessly. Okay, now let's roll our eyes at the gratuitous Burger King product placement. I mean, what the fuck was that?
I've stalled long enough, Meg Foster is da bomb as Evil-Lyn, the overly obsequious witch with the most alabaster skin this side of Snake Mountain. Oh, and yeah. That's right. I'm bringing back "da bomb." Other than being too eager to please Skeletor, I thought Evil-Lyn was pretty much perfect. How can you not love a woman who pretends to be Courtney Cox's dead mother in order to manipulate her to do her bidding? Sure, her taste in mercenaries is a tad suspect (they can't even capture a defenseless Courtney Cox), but have you seen her outfit? It's an ornate as all get out.
Covered with detailed metal work, its designer, Julie Weiss, must have put a lot of work into its creation, because the lavish get-up would not look out of place on the runways of Paris, Milan, or even Etobicoke. Which is a high compliment for a movie that features a scene where Billy Barty steals a bucket of baby back ribs with a grappling hook. And it's no surprise that Meg Foster, an actress with the dreamiest eyes I have ever scene, fills the costume with a malevolent ease. Favourite Evil-Lynism: "Outnumbered? Outclassed is more like it." A line she utters after Karg tells her the reason he failed to procure the Cosmic Key; which, as I'm sure most of you have already noticed, has a similar grammatical structure to that of cEvin Key, one of the founding members of Skinny Puppy. How did you ever manage to namedrop Skinny Puppy in a piece on Masters of the Universe? Hey, it's what I do. Whatever. As they say on Eternia: Good Journey.
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