Masters of the Universe (1987)

Director: Gary Goddard

Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox, James Tolkan, Christina Pickles, Meg Foster

Screenplay: David Odell

106 mins. Rated PG.

 

So there’s going to be a new Masters of the Universe film in a few years. With that, I figured it was time to revisit the infamous 1980s incarnation starring Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Aquaman). There are a lot of films that you can revisit years later and find a silver lining to. This will not be one of those reviews.

On the planet of Eternia, the villainous Skeletor (Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon, TV’s Kidding) have kidnapped the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull (Christina Pickles, The Wedding Singer, TV’s Break a Hip). He-Man (Lundgren) and his friends have a plan to save her, but when they fail to rescue the Sorceress, they escape using the Cosmic Key to a mystical place…called Earth. Now, they must recover the Key, return to Eternia, and defeat Skeletor once and for all.

This is not a good movie. It’s not good at all. Let’s start with literally the only thing that I think works in the film: Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. The two villains are pretty solid, even if they don’t get much to do. Langella is terrifically cheesy as Skeletor (his makeup effects are terrible, though) and Meg Foster (They Live, Overlord) is menacing as hell when adorned in her Evil-Lyn costume. I felt something almost Shakespearean in their portrayals, and in fact, they both site Shakespearean influences: Richard III for Langella and Lady Macbeth for Foster. While they both don’t have enough compelling dialogue or really much of anything to do in the film, I believe that they both put forth a solid amount of effort in elevating the material.

Now, onto the bad. First of all, I hate stories like this, where we take fantasy characters and remove the world, throwing them at Earth instead. Earth is boring, that’s why we go to the movies. Outside of Thor, this idea of traveling to Earth never works. It seems, for most of the film, that screenwriter David Odell (The Dark Crystal, Supergirl) knows nothing of the mythology of He-Man, and so removing Eternia from the equation makes us not have to worry about the mythology. Nothing that happens on Earth is interesting, whereas at least the stuff on Eternia has the ability to be engaging.

Then, there are distinct portions of the story that just don’t work. One of those elements is Gwildor, who replaces Orko from the source material. I just don’t understand why Orko is missing and this new incredibly annoying character has entered the mix. Gwildor is flat-out terrible.

The same can be said of this cosmic key device. Why is it necessary to the story to have the cosmic key played like a shitty synth musical instrument by everyone in the film? Why is this part of the story? It’s dumb and boring and serves no purpose.

I’d like to tell you that Dolph Lundgren plays He-Man well, but that’s not the case, and he’s the poster child for the lesson that you can look the part but you can’t always play the part. Lundgren survived most of the 1980s without any acting lessons, and if he’d taken the time to learn to perform, I think it would have served his career so much more than the brooding and the fighting.

Yes, just about everything in this film doesn’t work outside of Langella and Foster, and they’re doing their best. The studio had great faith in this film, and they had already prepped a sequel before this film under-performed. That sequel became the 1989 film Cyborg, but don’t ask me how that film was originally a Masters of the Universe sequel. This is a forgettable 80s film that should stay forgotten. Here’s hoping the new Masters of the Universe looks to this film for a case study of how not to handle the IP. Here’s hoping.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

151 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality.

 

So, after countless years of waiting for DC to officially make a move at creating a cinematic universe, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has arrived. Now comes the real question: Can DC create a universe from some of the most popular characters in comic book history? And what exactly is this film?

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, Gone Girl) has been obsessed with one thing over the past eighteen months: Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Cold Light of Day). After witnessing the damage done to the city of Metropolis due to Superman’s fight with General Zod, and seeing one of his own buildings filled with his employees come down in the battle, Bruce does not believe that Superman should be allowed to do as he pleases, and he’s not alone. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter, The Incredibles, Manglehorn) and billionaire playboy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, American Ultra) completely agree. Bruce’s caretaker Alfred (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, Race) becomes increasingly more concerned about Wayne’s mental state as the obsession grows. Meanwhile, Clark Kent’s life is moving in the right direction: He is in love with Lois Lane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, Big Eyes), he has a great job at the Daily Planet, but there is a problem. He too has become worried about a masked vigilante frequently called The Bat, but Clark finds that the world seems to be more concerned with Superman’s doings than this Bat character. When Lex Luthor sees an opening, he begins planting the seeds to bring these two heroic titans to blows, and hopefully take them both down at once.

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Well, we have a lot to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning. The title of the film is very strange. The decision to excise the “vs” in favor of a “v” implies a court case, which confuses me as I don’t understand why you want a superhero movie to be a court case, but I’ve already started to digress.

This movie’s plot seems to want to go everywhere but doesn’t actually get anywhere. It seems like two screenplays jammed together: one is a Batman v Superman movie, the other a Dawn of Justice movie. The problem here is that the glue used to stick these movies together is weak and flimsy. The Batman stuff is great, particularly their dealing with the origin, which is fleshed over the opening credits like how The Incredible Hulk treated theirs. Since this is the second Batman of this decade and the third iteration of an origin, I’m glad they decided to go this route, citing that Batman Begins did it the best it could ever be done. And what a Batman they picked! Ben Affleck owned this role. I learned from my initial criticism of Heath Ledger’s casting for The Dark Knight when Ben Affleck was selected to don the cowl for the nest Batman. I pulled back and thought, let’s just wait and see. And I was right, folks! Affleck’s performance was real and yet unlike anything we’ve seen from the Caped Crusader.

How’s the Superman stuff? Eh, not all that great. Henry Cavill doesn’t have the acting chops to do much, and his character is wasted on a convoluted plotline anda misunderstanding of the Man of Steel. I read countless times that this isn’t so much of a Man of Steel sequel but rather a backdoor pilot for the Justice League, which isn’t true. This is in fact a direct sequel as it fits every plot point of the previous film into this one, even the finished plot threads, and the movie bloats because of it.

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Now onto the Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Fast & Furious 6, Criminal) of it all. Wonder Woman is great. With only 16 lines of dialogue, Gal Gadot does her best to leave a presence here, and she does. It’s a great introduction to this character and truly excited me for the next installment featuring her.

Among the film’s principal faults lie Jesse Eisenberg, who plays a very new and very different incarnation of Lex Luthor. He did one incredible feat in this film. He made me hate Lex Luthor, but not in a way that works. Eisenberg skewers every scene is in by playing some goofy and unhinged extremes. For a character who was apparently written with such realism, none of that comes to play here. I was arguing with someone who claimed to understand (but not like) Eisenberg’s portrayal of the greatest criminal mastermind of our time. He told me that I didn’t like the performance because I wanted Gene Hackman back. I answered back that I didn’t like the performance because it was a poor performance. There were multiple moments in the film that feature Luthor in public essentially having a mental break. I was sitting in the theater and wanted to see someone just look at him and think that this guy is absolutely insane. The worst of it was all this press that came out later and announced that Bryan Cranston had been looked at, as had Tom Hanks (based on his incredible work on the underrated Cloud Atlas), and yet Eisenberg had been selected in order to reinvent the character. WHAT?!?

Let’s talk some on the Dawn of Justice portion of the film, which does get us into some spoilery territory, so be warned. Batman v Superman is seen as almost a Justice League origin story in a lot of ways. It sets up Batman, Wonder Woman, and even introduces us to several other members of the team. A major problem here is that the audience is spoon-fed the Justice League. The references and setups are literally beaten over the heads of viewers. There are better ways about this. The introduction of the Justice League was terrible sans The Flash, who got a quick moment of reveal that actually worked for me. As for Aquaman and Cyborg…yuck. Cyborg even wasted the origin story on a poor expository flitter of a moment with no style whatsoever. Absolutely stupid. Now, the film does have some subtlety here when they dance around some of the dark past of Bruce Wayne, but it doesn’t do this enough. You could even have thrown some of this into a post-credits scene to get it out of the main narrative.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, to me, a more enjoyable experience than Man of Steel, but as far as a cohesive story, it is not. This is a collection of some really cool moments squeezed into a movie that’s bursting at the seams. Ben Affleck gets great redemption from his previous Daredevil failure (in a world where Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans are also getting second chances) and is easily the best part of this film (Scott Adkins blames the Oscars for why Ben Affleck was cast, but doesn’t understand that Scott Adkins was not cast because he was Scott Adkins). I’m excited to see where this franchise is going (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman) but I’m nervous that the DCEU is not getting off to a great start and can’t really afford to fumble anymore. Overall, the film is divisive and has some great elements, but there is just too much that is found guilty in this court case.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

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