What is it: Forty years ago, children around the world lined up to celebrate the greatest cinematic experience of their time. They played with the toys, they read the storybooks, they dove into the rich fictional world. Unfortunately for the creators of the 1982 flop Megaforce, it wasn’t their world, but that of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The strange, toy-etic action flick Megaforce was part of a weird wave of would-be early ‘80s sci-fi franchises that were blatantly ripping off elements of Star Wars and Mad Max. Somewhere, a world exists where movies like this and its kinfolk Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn and Krull received multiple sequels. It isn’t this one.
The plot of Megaforce, such as it is, is about a futuristic UN-esque peacekeeping agency who ride around on motorbikes and dune buggies and fight a vaguely stereotypical foreign gang. Our star is none other than a wild-eyed Barry Bostwick of Rocky Horror and Spin City fame, perhaps the last actor on earth you’d cast as your leading man in a post-apocalyptic action flick. With a headband harnessing grand flowing locks of ‘80s hair and beard and a skintight shiny uniform that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, Bostwick’s awesomely named Ace Hunter is indeed a sight to behold. And that doesn’t even get into the flying motorbike scene featured at Megaforce’s climax, perhaps the film’s finest moment of sheer kitsch.
Why I never saw it: Wait, was it ever even in theatres? Or home video? Megaforce kind of sank from the world, the only evidence it existed comic-book ads, an Atari videogame and a line of tie-in vehicle toys that were mostly forgotten the moment they were released. It made less than $6 million worldwide and vanished. I might not have even clocked Megaforce’s existence if it weren’t for an onslaught of comic book ads for it in 1982. I’ve already written about how 1982 was my year of comics awakening, and you couldn’t pick up an issue of Star Wars or Marvel Team-Up without seeing Megaforce’s cheery manly ad on the back cover with a pumped-up Bostwick and the slogan “Deeds, Not Words” staring at you. Why, you could even get a Megaforce Membership Kit for a mere $1.00! Years later, I finally set out to find out what the fuss was all about.
Does it measure up to its rep? It had talent, in theory – director Hal Needham was behind Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run, so he knew how to make movies about loud cars and broad characters. But Megaforce is on the more dismal end of non-starter sci-fi cheapies of the early ‘80s (I’ve got a soft spot for Krull, I admit). Most of the movie is about explaining what Megaforce is, leading up to and training for the underwhelming battles, and enjoying Barry Bostwick’s luxurious hair. Bostwick brings a jovial energy to the movie that the story never rises to meet. Co-star Persis Khambatta (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) makes Bostwick look like Laurence Olivier and the rest of the cast are generic action stereotypes. The motorcycle battles – endless – get boring very quickly and nothing much really happens in Megaforce. There’s no stakes, no emotion, no sense of the wider world, just a few glimmers of the cheesy masterpiece it could’ve been if Ace Hunter had been allowed to really cut loose.
Worth seeing? To be honest… no, unless you’re in a very particular sort of mood and crave a particular sort of guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s just finally catching up 40 years later to seeing what that omnipresent comic book ad was all about. Even for a bomb, Megaforce doesn’t maintain the kitsch heights of The Room or Battlefield Earth. But … despite the slapdash storytelling, the long stretches where nothing much happens, the unforgettable sight of Barry’s Bostwick in too-tight tan spandex … there’s something I find kind of adorable about Megaforce and its willingness to fail big. Deeds, not words, indeed.