I, and many others of my generation, was always a fan of He-Man (aka Prince Adam), the man who became a warrior and was often seen lifting up a massive sword and yelling out “by the power of Grayskull” and/or “I HAVE THE POWER”. The old cartoon, though something I never ran home to catch every time it was on, was a lot of fun thanks to the antics of He-Man, Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Teela, Orko, Skeletor and others involved in the battle for Eternia. And I was jealous of any friends who had the superb toy version of Castle Grayskull in their own homes.
So a film version could have been great. Dolph Lundgren in the lead role? Fantastic choice. Frank Langella pretty much unrecognisable as Skeletor? Superb. Meg Foster as Evil-Lyn? A great addition. Jon Cypher and Chelsea Field are good enough as Duncan (Man-At-Arms) and Teela, respectively. Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill as a couple of folk caught up in the battle when it reaches Earth? Yeah, I can still go along with that. No Battle Cat? Hmmm. No Orko? Hmmmmm. Some unfunny little ginger cretin known as Gwildor (played by Billy Barty)? Okay, just hold on a bloody minute. There’s only so much crap I want in my crap TV to big-screen transitions.
The plot revolves around a cosmic key that would seem to be some bizarrely-shaped synthesiser. Anyway, He-Man and pals end up on Earth and need to get home but Skeletor sends his flunkies to destroy the gang, get the key and generally ruin everyone’s day. Courtney Cox’s character takes a break from serving fried chicken while her musician boyfriend (McNeill) just wanders around in a confused manner until a finale in which he may just be able to help play the synthesiser . . . . . I mean, errr, make the key work so that the gang can get home. In the midst of the chaos, James Tolkan is a detective trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Masters Of The Universe is, quite simply, just a mess. The tone is all over the place, the action sequences are never big or impressive enough, the acting is hit and miss and the script (written, mainly, by David Odell) keeps failing to generate any tension or excitement. It doesn’t help that characters keep referring to some deadline measured in units of time different from Earth time, and therefore meaningless to viewers without any context.
Lundgren is obviously a physical match for the main role but he’s left floundering and looking silly thanks to a lack of decent script and decent effects all topped off with some sloppy execution of the material. The same goes for pretty much everyone in his group. The bad guys all fare much better. Langella adds some enjoyable gravitas to Skeletor, Meg Foster seems to be having fun and James Tolkan (not actually a bad guy but quite a hindrance for most of the movie) steals almost every scene that he’s in.
Director Gary Goddard didn’t go on to direct anything else of note, though he has a few credits for some stuff you’ve probably never heard of (stuff that seems to be more promo work than anything else), and it’s easy to see why. He-Man should have been an easy success, it should have been a memorable blockbuster even if it was also destined to be a disposable one. This film isn’t fitting for such a hero and my rating here is a generous one based on a number of individual performances and the unintentional comedy factor.
DIRECTOR: GARY GODDARD
STARS: DOLPH LUNDGREN, FRANK LANGELLA, MEG FOSTER, COURTNEY COX, BILLY BARTY, JAMES TOLKAN
RUNTIME: 106 MINS APPROX