"From Dan Dare to James Tiberius Kirk, Flash Gordon's DNA is shot through our notions of what a hero - and superhero - is like a jagged bolt of lightning," writes Adam Smith in Empire. Director Mike Hodges describes the role of Flash as "an all-American hunk, decent, honourable, but, most importantly, naive." And, taking this film version, energetic and fun, and hardly capable of, let alone prone to, bouts of negativity. A nice birthplace for the 80s action hero, really. For example, Rambo had his angsty origins, but was all action and getting things done in the 80s. Not every 80s hero was angst-proof; Martin Riggs, for example, was essentially suicidal. But most were almost gleefully violent (and so, really, was Riggs, just for different reasons).
Compare even Riggs to say, Paul Kersey from the Death Wish films, begun in 1974; or Harry Callahan, whose films began in 1971. Seventies violence may have been just as outlandish as the best moments of, say, Commando, but played more real. Here, Flash Gordon is a cartoon hero. Watch the football scene, watch the Ajax battle, watch anything here. The darkest moments--like Flash's execution--get some nice music to cover them, happen just offscreen--when Flash is in the dungeon, we hear whipping like someone might be being tortured, but we don't see it; when Ming is impaled by the front of the Ajax, we don't see that actual moment he is hit--or are so over-the-top as to be unreal--Klytus' melting, or whatever happens to him when he dies, for example.
I would have liked to know what the bore worms are, and what they do. (Do they bore into you, or just make your bored?) But, those too, exist offscreen.
And then, I found myself just watching and enjoying the film.
When I was a kid, I wanted every film to have a hero like Flash Gordon, a treacherous villain like Ming. Black and white, good and evil.
As I got older, I'd expect and even want more nuance, more shades of grey. But, oh for the days where the bad guy was obvious, the good guy was easy to cheer for, and even in the real world we could easily pretend the same.