IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Masters of the Universe

This week’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! brought to you by a generous donation by Rick Carroll. Thank you for your support!

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The universe, be there a master of it or no, seems to have an interesting sense of irony. You see, I watched Toy Story 3 for the first time the night before I put this little gem into my computer’s optical drive. I had He-Man toys when I was growing up. In fact, one impetuous act of youth had me seeing Skeletor’s evil castle long before I was supposed to unwrap the gift. Oddly, though, I don’t remember seeing Masters of the Universe clearly before now, save one occasion where I might have been watching it and remember it being very, very dark. My memory might have been affected by booze or therapy, but I really can’t recall anything about that film which etched it into my mind as one based on some of the favorite toys of my childhood.

Seeing it now, I think I know why I didn’t remember it. I’m hoping I can find a way to forget it again as I write this.

Courtesy Cannon Pictures

Even from the opening titles, I was faced with a major flaw in the movie. The grandiose music, the swooshing credits, the somber narration – this movie’s trying very, very hard to be the original Superman. But the director is not Richard Donner. The music’s composer is not John Williams. Even when this came out, Superman was ten years old. This means Masters of the Universe was dated when it was in theaters. Other movies from earlier, working in a similar vein with similar material and even similar looks, are a lot more fun than this movie. Flash Gordon immediately springs to mind. That was camp. This is crap.

Let me ask your indulgence to explain, as I see it, the difference between camp and crap. Both are styles of film where the material is silly, the premise far-fetched and the budget on a level quite a bit below the usual summer blockbuster. But camp has fun with this. Camp is fully aware of how silly it is, and it’s grinning and laughing right along with you. Crap, on the other hand, plays it all straight. Masters of the Universe is definitely the latter. Between the stilted writing, the freshman-year-of-film-school directing and several hero-cast members acting so wooden they make Hayden Christensen look like Oscar material, this movie wouldn’t know camp if Flash Gordan and Jack Burton were sitting in its backyard toasting marshmallows and pitching tents.

Courtesy Cannon Pictures
“Um… guys? Does anybody remember how we got here?”

I realize I’ve been complaining already, and for two solid paragraphs, without mentioning the story of this movie. I’m not even sure it’s worth a mention. Basically, there’s this fight going on between the heroes defending the castle Greyskull and the villains attacking from Snake Mountain. An ill-explained turn of events and a magitechnical MacGuffin see the heroes catapulted to Earth. Other than the names and the occasional location, there’s really nothing at all connecting this story, its characters or anything about this movie to the action figures or cartoons that brought it into being.

I guess the whole storyline of foppish, cowardly Prince Adam secretly being He-Man wasn’t good enough for this movie. We get a midget inventor who looks like he was carved out of a pile of sick instead. I have no idea why this character is necessary at all. The closest parallel that comes to mind is Orko, but at least Orko had a purpose half the time and had the good sense not to follow He-Man around when he’s raiding Skeletor’s stronghold. You know it’s bad when a character in the movie makes you miss the “Scrappy” comic relief character from the cartoon. Dolph Lundgren sports an outfit bought at an S&M yard sale and a hilarious He-Mullet as he makes his way from one scene to another with an expression that is of a man either utterly lost or putting on a manly show to try and hide how utterly lost he is. Teela’s practically gutted, the mercenaries sneer like high schoolers snatched up to play villains in a Saturday amateur dramatics production and I’m going to reiterate that Gwildor is even more arbitrary than the whole “sent to Earth by happenstance” excuse for a plot. At least Man-at-Arms is having some fun.

Courtesy Cannon Pictures
“No I’m not. You leave me out of this. And stop checking out my daughter’s ass!”

It’s a bad sign when you find yourself wanting to spend more time around the villains than the heroes. Skeletor has decent make-up and an agenda that he pursues rather intelligently, and Evil-Lyn not only makes evil look pretty damn good, she does everything Skeletor orders her to do and does it well. For the bulk of the movie I came damn close to rooting for the ruthless magitechnological dictator and his sultry right-hand girl. Even the innocent Earthling bystanders have more pathos and character than the heroes. I mean, say what you want about Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan MacNeill – yes, that’s Tom Paris – but they can actually salvage something watchable out of this mess. As the movie hurtles towards its lackluster and flaccid climax, though, the things I found myself almost liking dribbled away one after another: Evil-Lyn had less to do, a police detective tried and failed to upstage the kids caught up in the fight, and Skeletor not only got a little to into He-Man getting whipped by a fellow bondage show refugee, he also started taking fashion tips from Lo Pan’s gay cousin Emperor Wang. I didn’t care about the outcome of what was probably meant to be an epic battle, save for the fact that seeing it end brought with it the end of the film. Finally.

Masters of the Universe leaves the unfortunate viewer with so many questions. Why does a movie from 1987 look and feel like something from a decade before? You’d think special effects would have at least grown a bit beyond recycled bits from other sources. If Skeletor achieves godhood, why does he still need his minions to do his bidding? Can’t he just smite the lot of them, or does he leave matters in the hands of his inept underlings out of habit? If the police detective was Korea, how does he not know what a “forward position” is? The closest I’ve been to a battlefield is the tour at Gettysburg, and I know what a forward position is. Why does He-Man, a hero defined by his manliess and swordsmanship, insist on constantly using frickin’ laser beams? I don’t recall his action figure ever having a gun as an accessory. And what purpose does Gwildor serve, other than to be annoying in just about everything he does?

Courtesy Cannon Pictures
“Evil-Lyn! Bring me the Golden Headdress of Wang! I have a party to attend!”

Courtesy Cannon Pictures
“… My lord, I’m afraid He-Man’s stupidity may be catching.”

The fight coordination is awful, the dialogue is trite, the special effects are painted on, the connection to its source is as intangible as its narrative structure and its utter dedication to its sincerity makes the entire experience excruciatingly painful. G.I. Joe, Revenge of the Fallen, hell, even the original 80s animated Transformers was better than this. This is just… sickeningly bad. There are very few movies that I’ve loathed utterly when watching it. In that scene towards the end of Toy Story 3 – those of you who’ve seen it know the one I mean – I can only hope that somewhere in that pile of about-to-incinerate garbage is a master copy of Masters of the Universe burning masterfully. It languishes in dark obscurity in places like Netflix, and if you have any decent taste in movies, that’s where it’ll stay.

Too good for it, I say!

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


  1. Brilliant, sir. You were sure to stick around for the special PS after the credits, right?

  2. I tried to warn you. But noooooo. Nobody listens to Mina.

  3. Haha, I watched this as a kid. Like you, I can’t remember much about it either. Glad you saved me the pain of doing so again.

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