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5 Things a Good HE-MAN/MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Movie Needs

5 Things a Good HE-MAN/MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE Movie Needs

The director’s chair for a new Masters of the Universe movie continues to revolve, with McG being the latest to depart the project even as Sony has now set a release date of Dec. 18, 2019. Assuming that nobody wants to go the route of the 1987 version, which made the setting suburban Earth because of budgetary issues, this doesn’t give production a lot of prep-time for an epic space fantasy. But you know what, Sony? I can help. I like the 1987 movie a lot still, and I want to love whatever it is you’ve got on deck. So to save some creative time, here are the things you have to get right…and they’re coming from a guy who had all the original toys, including the bedroom-filling Eternia playset, and shelled out $300 on a newly revamped Castle Grayskull.

1. He-Man Does Not Kill

With Batman V Superman/Man of Steel writer David S. Goyer attached, this has to be made clear: if you think Superman fans were upset at the neck snap, which is arguably almost canonical, you have not seen the thunder He-Man fans will bring if he becomes a killer. Merely thinking he killed someone led to him briefly retiring in the ’80s cartoon; in the Dolph Lundgren movie, he killed only robot soldiers, which are acceptable collateral damage. Yes, he threw Skeletor into an abyss, but a post-credits scene showed the evil adversary survived.

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We’ll buy that certain things happen during battle. If he’s defending himself or others, death can transpire. But He-Man is more of a good cop than a good soldier, there to protect and serve rather than massacre enemies.

2. Take It Seriously

While the ’80s Filmation cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, is the best known Masters continuity, fans generally view it as the Adam West Batman take: yes, it’s canon, and it’s fun, but it includes campy elements that audiences would have a lot of trouble with today.

Both the 2002 cartoon from Mike Young Productions and the recent DC comics have shown a more serious approach can work. You can have Cringer as a cowardly pet, but he’s better off not talking. Orko can stay the comedic sidekick, but the pathos of his backstory (he’s actually a powerful sorcerer from an ancient race, cursed to have none of his magic work properly on Eternia) should remain. Hordak’s sinus-snorts need to go, and it simply beggars belief that Skeletor and Hordak are magical and scientific geniuses, respectively, but only capable of finding complete morons as their underlings. He-Man can never be less than “the most powerful man in the universe,” but his enemies need to pose an actual threat.

3. Skeletor as a Tragic Figure, Corrupted

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All due respect to Alan Oppenheimer’s “Nyahahahaha!” version of ol’ skullhead, which was perfect for what the cartoon was, but something a little closer to Frank Langella is needed. In case you’re not up on recent Masters mythology, Skeletor is now the former Keldor, brother of King Randor, and discriminated against for being mixed-race (his mother was a blue-skinned Gar). During an open rebellion against the throne, Keldor got a bad splash of acid in the eyes, and was healed by his mentor Hordak in a manner that gave him permanent resting boneface. Naturally, he turned on Hordak soon thereafter. Now thoroughly evil, he was nonetheless formed in familial rejection and bigotry, powerful motives we should understand even as they fail to justify whatever malevolent deeds he commits.

4. Two Different Actors as Prince Adam and He-Man

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He-Man’s secret identity in both the original toy line and cartoon was a worse-hidden secret than Clark Kent’s “Superman, but with glasses” guise: the two literally looked exactly the same, save He-Man having a darker tan and less clothing. This wasn’t supposed to be the plan originally–a teen becoming a superhero was supposed to show the change. Filmation, however, needed to recycle and reuse in order to keep their cartoons made-in-the-USA and under budget, so they simply repurposed He-Man cels to make Adam. Years later, the 2002 cartoon would finally correct things back to the original intent.

Depending on the budget, you could use digital trickery to make the same actor play both roles, but why? It would turn the whole thing into a distracting effect. Casting a teen and an adult who look and act similarly enough may be difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. Ask all the kids who’ve played “young Tom Hanks” over the years.

5. Done Right, It Can Be Bigger Than a Trilogy

There’s a lot to get to if you play out the story of He-Man with all the elements that have been added over the years. Fortunately for anyone looking to adapt, there is no one true canon. Every version has differed slightly, from the original mini-comics to the Filmation, Jetlag, and MYP cartoons. But there are enough commonalities, across enough versions that a larger arc for He-Man himself is easily plotted.

The first movie needs to be He-Man versus Skeletor, with the origins of both Adam finding the sword of power and Keldor becoming Skeletor. That much is considered canon at this point. You’d have a cameo by Hordak as Keldor’s mentor, setting him up as the big bad for movie two, which would be He-Man discovering his sister Adora/She-Ra, as told in more comedic fashion in the animated film The Secret of the Sword. For the third movie, you finish the story that the original Mattel toy line was beginning to tell when it was canceled: with the ancient Snake Men as Skeletor’s uneasy new allies, He-Man travels back in time to Preternia, where the Snake Men originate and cyborg dinosaurs roam the planet.

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Movie four could be a take on the New Adventures cartoon and toys, as Skeletor leaves Eternia to conquer outer space, pursued by Adam who is now permanently He-Man. While purists back in the day found that arc out of character, the more recent Classics toy canon made it more palatable by adding She-Ra and tying Space Mutant leader Flogg to Hordak, as part of the Horde Empire among the stars. The final movie would be a slightly lighter Dark Knight Returns for the now-King He-Man (Yes, King He-Man, not King Adam…just trust me on this one) in his final battle. If a possible hook is needed for even more adventures, this can also introduce the second-generation hero and villain Dare, a.k.a. He-Man Junior, and Skeleteen, son of Keldor and Evil-Lyn.

What would make a Masters of the Universe movie work for you? You have the power…to tell us in comments.

Images: Mattel/Filmation/Mike Young Productions/Cannon Films

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