“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was just about the best thing going when I was around kindergarten age. I and my male cousins would storm the Barbie dreamhouses of our sisters with He-Man, Battle Cat, Ram-Man, and all the other absurdly named heroes of Eternia. These action figures followed in the footsteps of the “Star Wars” figures and preceded other properties in the ideal that you had to have a different figure for each iteration of the same character.
Barbie had us beat there, boys. We couldn’t just buy another outfit. We had to buy a whole other action figure.
One other place many of these boy-centric properties beat the He-Man universe is in film adaptations. The first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” live action film isn’t particularly great, but it is re-watchable. “Masters of the Universe” from that grand year 1987, on the other hand, might be one of the truest examples of a dumpster fire on film.
Pretty much everything is wrong with the movie. Dolph Lundgren had just come off of a break-out performance in “Rocky IV” as Ivan Drago. The dude was scary. He had nearly killed our beloved Balboa. And now we were supposed to believe he was a good guy? Not just any good guy but THE good guy?
Nope. Not happening.
I still have trouble ever buying Lundgren as a hero. He’s best as a shady protagonist (except in his follow-up to He-Man in which he butchered the role of Frank Castle in “The Punisher” — well before Marvel got its act together).
Much more believable were Frank Langella and Meg Foster as Skeletor and Evil-Lynne, respectively. Langella remains my favorite Dracula and has also portrayed Richard Nixon. Now that’s evil for you.
Lundgren, bad effects, a contractual stipulation that made it so He-Man couldn’t kill anyone and a young Courtney Cox made “Masters of the Universe” my first experience in being disappointed with a movie. I was not yet eight years old, but thanks to a grandpa who managed a theater, I was a seasoned film-goer. And I knew right away that “Masters of the Universe” wasn’t just a bad movie, but a massive letdown.
The sticker book I had and begged my mom to let me fill led me astray. I’ve only watched the movie once since I was a kid, attempting to discover if it was indeed as bad as I remembered it being.
Yes, it’s true. That trash fire still burns.
Which is why I am optimistic that a new live-action He-Man film, set for release in 2019, will be better. Because, you know, it couldn’t be worse.
T.J. Tranchell is a journalism adviser at the University of Idaho and wishes he still had some of his He-Man action figures. Who was your favorite He-Man character? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.