REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

CAST

Dolph Lundgren (Kindergarten Cop 2)
Frank Langella (The Box)
Meg Foster (Hercules: TLJ)
Billy Barty (Legend)
Courteney Cox (Scream)
Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager)
Jon Cypher (Batman Beyond)
Chelsea Field (Commando)
James Tolkan (Top Gun)
Christina Pickles (The Wedding singer)
Anthony De Longis (Highlander: The Series)

The battle between good and evil stretches across the galaxy in Masters of the Universe, starting on the planet Eternia in the height of a siege on Castle Grayskull by the sorcerer Skeletor (Frank Langella). He’s obtained a way of traveling across long distances, even time, with a “cosmic key” that gave him the advantage in taking Castle Grayskull, leaving its defenders in disarray across the land’s outskirts. In an attempt to reclaim the area with the help of Gwildor (Billy Barty), the scientist who designed the key, He-Man and his compadres, Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher) and Teela (Chelsea Field), make an attempt to reclaim the castle; but, in a fit of desperation, are transported to 1980s Earth, and lose the key in the process. Masters of the Universe transforms into a fish-out-of-water action-comedy at this point — think Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home meets Conan the Barbarian — where He-Man and his team scramble to hunt down the cosmic key with the help of two kids formerly in love: Julie (Courtney Cox in her first film role) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill). Skeletor’s minions, led by the piercing gazes of Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster), aren’t far behind, and they’ll make sure He-Man’s trip back won’t be an easy one.I Masters of the Universe throws together some fairly cool-looking sword-‘n-sorcery set pieces that blur from Eternia over to Earth, which still possess a certain draw through their practical application. Director Gary Goddard and his production/art crew concentrated their efforts to achieving a full-bodied visual style that’d enthrall a wide range of audiences; the throne room at Castle Gayskull is a grand, handmade mythical space that’s given depth through cleverly-placed matte paintings, while intricate costume work achieves a blend of cinematic curio and “toy-ready” appeal. Playing into that, Frank Langella disappears into the prosthetics and make-up of Skeletor, while the angles and contours created with his stark-white facial moldings still capture the stone-faced force of his performance. Also, the practical Star Wars-esque effects built within certain scenes — lightning from Skeletor’s hands, the crack of an electric whip, and the movement of air gliders — give it a familiar whimsy, while wearing influences clearly on its sleeve.Grandeur can’t hide the perfunctory, unimaginative plotting at its core though, overflowing with moustache-twirling villains and goofy keep-it-rolling storytelling that’s more of a chore than charismatic. While Gary Goddard and The Dark Crystal screenwriter David Odell (among other uncredited writers) draw influence from Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” comic series for its grand essence, basic contrivances are what flimsily glue the chapters together; secret passages conveniently lead to locations where He-Man and his crew need to be, grappling hooks grab things in the nick of time, and they always have the materials they need on-hand to repair elaborate tech. Perhaps that’s a part of making the film accessible to other audiences, almost like a darker version of one of the cartoons, but there’s a missing layer that prevents it from bottling the adventuresome magic needed. A few well-written “stranger in a strange land” moments add to the experience, such as how the Eternians react to eating a bowl of fried chicken, but they’re eclipsed by nagging goofball things like how Gwildor makes his cosmic space-travel device work by just sporadically banging on the keys for varying lengths of time.Still, Dolph Lundgren throws Masters of the Universe over his burly shoulders and stoically lugs it through active laser-pistol duels and frantic searches for the key to get back to Eternia, piecing together into a bearable journey that’s not without its own mindless fun. In his sparse warrior garb and shoulder armor that bare almost every muscle he’s got, Lundgren fits the bill of the sword-wielding hero really well — a visually-comparable, noble PG answer to Arnie’s Conan. His rapport with Skeletor is an overt black-and-white conflict, full of gallant speeches and calls of superiority in the cosmos, yet there’s an admirable quality in the straight-faced, scenery-chewing pomposity that Frank Langella evokes in the arch-nemesis. Clunky battles and higher-than-high stakes shove Gary Goddard’s film towards an unsurprising climax, but at least it stays consistent all the way up to that odd-defying moment everyone’s expecting: where the hero confidently stands and insist that he does, indeed, have the power.

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