Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon is the best movie ever. First off, this was the movie that Star Wars was supposed to be. But since Flash was taken, Lucas had to make up his own shit instead. Flash Gordon himself has always rocked. Cartoons, comic strips, serials, you name it and Flash has slapped it upside the head and made it his bitch. He’s an icon! And at last he is given his proper due in the fine 1980 film bearing his name.

“Flash, aaaaah! He’ll save every one of us!” – Queen, bringing Flash the love.

Once the film starts, we see wonderful comic images of Flash kicking ass. And a five minute Queen song with Freddy Mercury making a very eloquent case for why Flash Gordon rocks so hard. If you don’t love Flash Gordon after hearing that song, you must not be listening. About the only thing Flash hasn’t done for us is die for our sins. But really, Flash Gordon can’t die, he’d just kick death’s ass.

Soon after Queen gets tired, meteors rain down upon the Earth. Ming the Merciless is bored, and starts hitting buttons that cause volcanic eruptions, fiery rain, plagues of locusts, whatever. He hits a button, boom, stock footage of various disasters happens and he giggles himself silly. If its apocolyptic, he has a button for it. He’s probably got an Oprah button too, but we don’t see it.

In the old days Flash was a polo player, but nowadays that isn’t quite manly enough so he’s with the New York Jets. Dale is some kind of a publicist or something. Who cares, really. They get on a plane, and Ming starts throwing flaming meteors at them. He is such a scamp! A surgical strike takes out the pilots, and Flash has to crash the plane into Hans Zarkov’s secret lab. One thing I have to say about Sam Jones, the guy who plays Flash: he acts the hell out of being blond. I mean, later I saw him in another movie with his real hair, and it just looked so fake. I totally believed him as blond in this, and Flash Gordon is definitely blond.

Zarkov is stone cold in this one. Normally he’s a jolly fat man with a really sucky beard who just sort of hangs around Flash. In this movie though Zarkov is the hero. Psychically unstable hero, but hero none-the-less. See, Zarkov was with NASA for awhile, but he somehow scientifically came to the conclusion that a crazy bald alien was going to come along and jack our shit up, just for fun! NASA thought he was a bit crazy, and fired him. Zarkov, being a man of conviction starts working on his own rocketship to fight these invaders off. Years ago! Oh, and he’s got Porkins as his sidekick. So Ming comes along, and as Zarkov predicted he starts some shit. So Zarkov is totally going to fly up there and do…something. Porkins isn’t so sure about that idea, since the rocket isn’t actually armed, or even have parachutes or anything resembling landing gear…in fact its pretty much a missile with no warhead and a dude to steer it. So Porkins does the sane thing and runs like hell.

Flash Gordon’s crashing plan runs him down like the dog he is! Zarkov decides to play it cool, and use Dale as his new lab assistant, because, well, she’s hotter than Flash is or Porkins was. He invites them into his rocket to use his phone (!) and then launches it at gunpoint. Flash fights him, because that’s what Flash does, but a temporary alliance is formed when they realize they’re about to die unless someone pushes a red pedal that…does something. Important. So off they go into space, where Ming captures them, because he’s bored and wants to screw with them for a bit.

“I’m not your enemy, Ming is! Let’s all team up and fight him.” – Flash Gordon, being subtle.

Conveniently, they arrive when all the oppressed masses of Mongo are gathering to pay tribute to Ming. Here we see the bikini-clad frost babes of Frigia. And the plastic-winged Hawkmen. And the Men-In-Tights from Arboria. And some short guys that look like a fruit drink I used to like. Anyway they are all there, and fighting amongst each other and generally getting screwed over by Ming. Zarkov realizes that this is a potential revolutionary situation. Ming realizes that Dale is one hot piece of Earth-tail. Flash doesn’t realize very much, but he takes out half of Ming’s army with a makeshift football. Dale, realizing she has nothing really to offer the movie, starts to cheerlead. He would be unstoppable, but the new improved Zarkov accidentally takes him out. The oppressed masses are kinda bummed, and go back about the business of being oppressed.

“Klytus! Are your men on the right pills? Maybe you should execute their trainer!” – Ming, armchair quarterback.

Ming has Flash executed, and gets ready to have his way with Dale. He realizes that Zarkov is a total psychotic badass, and that’s material that Mongo can use. Enter Ming’s ultra-hot daughter, Aura. She likes wearing spray paint and tape, and has a midget on a leash. She’s diggin’ on Flash so she rescues him from being killed. She has an army of backup lovers that help her out. She’s sort of in a relationship with Robin Hood, I mean Prince Barin, who knows she’s basically a whore but she’s ultra-hot and the Emperor’s daughter. So he agrees to take her boy-toy on over in Arboria, scheming all the while to kill him and divest himself of one of the thousands of other men she’s sleeping with.

“Lying bitch.” – Prince Barin, romantic. A man so royal it sounds like he has two titles instead of a name.

He tries to get all tricky, and make Flash play a game where you stick your hand in a stump until something bites you. First tree men beat the stump to angrify the little thing inside. Then you stick your hand in. If it bites you, then you’ll go mad and die. If it doesn’t, your in the gang! Flash pretends to get bit, kicks the crap out of Barin, and then runs into the swamp. In the swamp he gets eaten by this enormous rubber mouth with legs. It’s awesome beyond comare. Barin blasts the thing, and Flash comes out all covered in bug bile and feeling like football may not have adequately prepared him for life on Mongo. Just as Barin’s about to shoot him, hawkmen show up. Meanwhile, Zarkov is so badass that he’s broken out of the unbreakable conditioning they tried to put him in, rescued Dale, and flown off. I’m telling you, he’s the hero. Just as they get away though, they get nabbed by…hawkmen! Take off, how convenient!

Aura gets captured by the secret police and tortured a bit. They hint that she kinda likes it. Ultra-hot. But finally the ultimate threat of the bore worms makes her talk. She cops to bringing back Flash as a fuck-toy, and using Barin to do it. So Ming gets up an army and heads for the Hawkmen, since they seem to have captured everyone already anyway.

“No! Not the bore worms!” – Princess Aura, alien whore.

Enter Voltan, played by the inimitable Brian Blessed. Brian Blessed should win some kind of an award for the most impressive and consistent over-acting performed over the entire span of a career. Brian Blessed does not speak lines. He screams them. His characters always look like they have liquor-barrels for chests and Honeybaked Hams for fists. They carry heavy and spiked maces no matter the genre or time period, and call anyone without a 2 foot beard a woman. He looks like he could flip out and eat a co-star at any minute. And as Voltan, that really works.

Voltan has all these really important hostages, and decides the best thing to do would be to make them fight to the death. Well, not really, but Barin really wants to kill Flash and Voltan wouldn’t mind seeing Barin get killed, so he just sort of goes with it. Flash and Barin fight on a rotating disk with spikes and whips and things. All the while Voltan is playing with the remote control and cackling like a looney. This is movie magic. Flash wins thanks to Voltan’s interference, but instead of killing Barin, he offers him the mighty hetero-handclasp of man-love. Barin accepts and becomes Flash’s new best friend. He decides to try to be slightly less misogynist and very much less murderous in honor of his new human pal. Around this time Ming’s fleet shows up and blows the Hawkmen’s city to bits. Zarkov, Dale, and Barin are captured. Flash and Voltan escape.

Now that he’s got Dale again, Ming is in the mood for love and decides to marry her. Zarkov and Barin are going to be executed, but Aura goes on a murderous rampage and rescues them. Voltan decides he’s learned his lesson and teams up with Flash to kick some ass. Here’s the plan: Flash will attack Ming’s city. He could probably take them, but instead he’ll break away like they defeated him. They’ll send some big ass rocketship after him, and then all the Hawkmen will take it out, turn it around, and fly it back into the city and blow it up! Brilliant!

“What do you mean, ‘Flash Gordon approaching’?” – Kala, surveillance expert.

Actually things go about as planned. The wedding starts, Flash attacks, and a big battle erupts around the rocket. Here I should talk about the look of the film, and what it adds. All the rocketships have fins. They have sleek 50’s styling, and are possibly the best looking rockets ever made. The skies of Mongo are like a giant lava-lamp, so you have these sweet retro rockets cruising around this massive screen-saver atmosphere. The effect is breathtaking. The Hawkmen’s wings are a little less fortunate, but that’s okay. They make up for they’re crappy body parts with never-say-die attitudes, wielding swords in a laser battle, and king who can shout louder than anything else on the planet.

The rocket is taken, and Flash turns it around and heads for the city. At this point Queen, never far from our thoughts, returns to the movie to underscore how much Flash rules. Zarkov, still the actual hero of the film, defeats Ming’s plan to destroy Earth by crashing the Moon into us. Since Flash isn’t available he uses Barin as muscle instead, and that works out just fine for him. However, nobody notices that he’s won at this point, so the movie proceeds to its climax, with Flash driving a giant flaming rocket towards a lightning field that protects the city. Oh sure, it’ll blow up the rocket real good, but that will open up the city for Hawkmen and Flash is pretty sure that will help Earth be saved somehow.

“Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour? Do you promise to use her as you will? Not to blast her into space? Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.” – Ming the Merciless’ Wedding Vows.

Zarkov saves flash by just turning the lightning field off. The rocketship crashes INTO Ming, so he’s pretty much dead. Barin has taken out the rest of the stuff by now, and he, Zarkov, and Voltan arrive to back up Flash against the nearly dead guy. Ming gives them all a ‘screw you’ parting speech and vanishes. A robot floats up and announces to the audience that Flash won and Earth isn’t going to be blown up (having been saved by Zarkov about 15 minutes ago). Flash jumps for joy and Queen starts rockin’ out.

“Long live Flash! You’ve saved your Earth. Have a nice day.” – Ming’s Robot.

Barin decides he gets to be Emperor, since he did all the work and is marrying that murderous super-hot whore Aura. Just to seal the deal he makes Voltan his general. Voltan’s like “I get to kill shit? Well then I’m in!” Zarkov is like, well, they aren’t blowing up Earth, so I guess I’m in too. Flash looks around and wonders what the hell just happened. But everyone loves him and he just won the space superbowl, so he does some basking and calls it good. The movie is over…or is it? After the credits a mysterious hand picks up Ming’s ring and adds a suspicious ‘?’ to ‘The End?’ Twenty Five years later no sequel is in sight, but I can still hope.

Now back when this came out, 1980, people complained that the movie looked cheesy and the acting was terrible. I think now modern audiences can appreciate the visuals more fully. I’d like to think that if this movie were made today, it would look exactly the same. Unfortunately the vocal minority that hated this movie have convinced most people that it is bad. Don’t fall for the lies! This is the best movie ever, and Flash deserves your love! If he’s good enough for Queen, then he’s damned well good enough for you!

About the Author

Stark Raving Reviewer Darrell Hayhurst is an acclaimed game designer, best known for the Origin-nominated WWII pulp-sci fi space combat hit "Hard Vacuum" released in 2000 and the follow-up expansion “Hard Vacuum: Science Gone Mad” in 2001 and the “Hard Vacuum: War’s End” three-parter, "Bright Sun Ascending!", "The Highest Ground!" and "Red Rockets Rising!" in 2004.