Classic Cannon: Masters of the Universe (1987) - Reviewed

As an answer to the big budget science fiction fantasy films of the '80s, Cannon Films responded with their take on Masters of the Universe. 

With word that McG is rebooting the franchise, we review a film so derivative, it can only be defined as straight up plagiarism from another series about a blonde haired hero fighting a man in a dark cape that has an evil voice and otherworldly powers. Using black armored Stormtroopers, hoverboards similar to the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, and an obvious riff on the Vader/Palpatine relationship, it's shocking no one got sued over this thing. 

Guys. Did you borrow these costumes from Krull? I think you did.

Never inclined to let a good plot ruin their plans, the men behind Cobra and Superman IV decided to try and launch a mega-franchise on par with Star Wars. Lacking the imagination and the funding to pull off a massive scale production, Golan and Globus sunk $17 million into a flailing effort that would start the career of Courteney Cox and would harm the already flailing career of Dolph Lundgren. As his third starring role, this was another step in the wrong direction that would take him further away from his goals of becoming the next Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Lacking the charisma and skill set of those formative action players, Masters of the Universe would set forth decades filled with B-movie fodder for Lundgren. His upcoming Punisher movie was a flop and Red Scorpion would take years to get its due respect. 

With a stymied budget and a bare bones plot, Cannon released a schizophrenic He-Man movie that unfortunately takes the battle for Eternia to the planet Earth, forgoing all the charm of the classic cartoon while replacing Orko with a new cave dwelling creature name Gwildor, a big eared creature that's clumsy and obsessed with food. Sound familiar? The results are baffling and mindlessly typical for a company set on keeping up with the Joneses.

Borrowing heavily from the adventures of Luke Skywalker and his band of galactic warriors, Masters of the Universe uses key plot points, dialogue, thematic elements, and even a conclusion ripped directly from Return of the Jedi. From the opening sequence forward, nothing about this adventure feels original whatsoever. Through music that sounds like the Superman score to a bounty hunter introduction that's stolen from The Empire Strikes Back, this treatment of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe may be fun at times, but it's never a study in creativity. It's quite the opposite. Transposing the setting from their home planet to our own ultimately lets loose any expectations that this was going to be a quality version of the characters from the cartoon series and toy line. 

When they said 'wear a rubber', I thought they meant a mask. This is gonna get weird. 

As goofy as the movie is, there are some cool practical effects and the final duel between He-Man and a horribly rubber faced Skeletor is at least mildly engaging in a cheeseball kinda way. Raping the talents of Frank Langella as he does battle with a barely legible Dolph Lundgren, Masters of the Universe is proof positive of a simpler time in motion pictures. It's also symptomatic of how influential George Lucas was on that period of filmmaking. If you can handle an epic level of horrendously uncomfortable dialogue with an underdeveloped non-plot, check this out. Considering his history, McG's version won't be much better.  

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