American football player, hunk and all-round good guy Flash Gordon (Sam J Jones) is rocketed into space by a mad scientist (Topol) to save the earth from imminent alien invasion by Chinese space Nazi Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow).
Flash Gordon started as a comic book but was popularised by film serials in the 1930s, so after the success of Star Wars in 1977, which was essentially a throwback to that era, Gordon’s time had come. But while Star Wars adopted a cool, new aesthetic, Gordon is closer to to the campy 60s visuals of Barbarella, with racial and gender politics that seem to be from that era too.
As a result it’s not aged particularly well, even if the tongue-in-cheek campery is consistently entertaining. There’s a brilliant array of supporting characters in outlandish costumes, including a dude who looks like Doctor Doom and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, complete with massive gold wings, acting at his loud best.
It’s also the original film scored by Queen, which was itself the first film soundtrack to feature dialogue from the film (“Flash, Flash I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth”). In fact, the unique-sounding main theme represents a notable absence from Bohemian Rhapsody.
In the middle of this Jones doesn’t stand out. He’s not particularly charismatic, offering the chiseled good looks of an all-American hero but not much else. This is a shame because such an outlandish film really demands an energy level to match, particularly when delivering lines like “I’m flying blind on a rocket cycle”.