Masters of the Universe was one of the first two films I ever saw in the theater. It’s either this or Benji the Hunted, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve watched the movie very infrequently since 1987, but I was glad to find that it holds up as a bit of lighthearted, energetic fantasy fluff with cool visuals.
For whatever reason, the film eschews the more traditional sword and sorcery set-up of the old MOTU cartoon in favor of what is basically an alien invasion angle, with Cox’s Julie and her boyfriend Kevin caught in the middle of the Masters’ other-dimensional power struggle. Cox is quite young here, but she has an obvious natural charisma that anchors the whole picture. James Tolkan also shines as the comically incredulous copper Lubic. It would have been neat to see a live action MOTU movie that stuck closer to the source material, but at least the filmmakers cast some engaging performers as the earthlings in peril.
Since the script focuses so much on the two teens, Dolph Lundgren and his good guy cohorts are actually given very little to do, for better or worse. The villains prove more interesting, with the iconic Meg Foster and her amazing eyes inhabiting the role of Evil Lyn, and an almost unrecognizable Frank Langella as Skeletor. The latter’s make-up is stiff and limiting but Langella manages to deliver a decent performance all the same, and it looks pretty damn cool to boot. The henchmen characters are all kind of neat too, though they’re disappointingly scrawny given that the toy line is famously filled with little bodybuilder dudes.
Again, the filmmakers broke with the source material and provided us with some new baddies and skipped over existing characters. Of the guys created for the movie, the most memorable one for me was also, oddly, the most simply designed, and that’s Anthony de Longis as Blade, the confident swordsman looking to test himself against He-Man. (Incidentally, Mattel is days away from releasing a Blade figure that more closely resembles the actor. Feast your eyes on this bad boy right here.)
While the movie abandons a lot of the existing MOTU aesthetic, it still manages to be rather interesting on the visual level, in large part thanks to production designer and fantasy artist William Stout. He personally designed or re-designed most of the characters and sets, and even brought in the legendary Moebius to help with some of the visuals. Evidently Moebius assisted on the look of the massive throne room, which was, according to this Stout interview, the biggest set built in Hollywood since the 1940s. I love the way it actually resembles a skull in the still above.
Moebius isn’t the only comic book genius to leave his mark here. Director Gary Goddard grew up on Jack Kirby and actually tried to hire the King to work on the film. The producers didn’t go for it, but Goddard maintains that his love of Kirby influenced the script, which might explain why the Masters travel from world to world via boom tubes!
As I suggested above, Masters of the Universe is a light, fast moving sci-fi/fantasy adventure. It’s not especially deep or clever but it’s action packed, amusing, and pleasant, with some good messages for younger viewers. The ties to comic book royalty are icing on the cake.