A classic late 1930s serial.
To really enjoy this you need to step back to the 1930s, television was something you saw at the World's Fair, only the rich flew on airplanes, the fastest airplane in the world went 400 MPH, and radio was the high tech gadget that everyone wanted. Jet engines, transistors and computers had not been invented yet and the idea of flying in space was pure fantasy. Science fiction was the stuff of comic books and was for kids, not adults. Serials were a low budget short that of course always ended in a cliff hanger to get people coming back to the theater each week. Special effects are primitive to say the least and the he plot is a straight forward morality play with good guys, Flash Gordon the athlete, Doctor Zarkov, and Dale Arden vs the bad guy, Ming the Merciless emperor of the planet Mongo.
There was no political correctness in the 1930s but it is not as bad as it could have been.
The villains of course look like Asians and not just any Asian but the most flamboyant image of an evil Mandarin one could imagine. The women are all pretty and in secondary roles and are often the damsel in distress. On the bright side the some of the bad guys change sides. It seems that Ming was a dictator that oppressed and enslaved the other races in the empire through terror. Of course Ming, Doctor Zarkov and Dale help them to free themselves in the end, or at least until the next serial starts.
Don't forget Buster Crabbe.
Buster Crabbe won a gold metal for swimming at the 1932 olympics which he combined with his good looks to become a movie star. He started off as Tarzan before he became Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers!. He was the king of the movie serial and later went on to star in westerns.
Kick back and have some fun.
Kick back, make some popcorn and pop in the DVD and have fun. The stories are fun and of course to modern viewers extremely campy. When watching it and thinking how silly it all is, try to remember that the men and women that built the US space program where watching Flash Gordon and dreaming of building space ships. There is one more thing I have to add to this post.
If the 1930s is too far back in time you can jump to the late 1970s
It is still campy but fun.
The band Queen did the sound track and the story is very close to the original serial but updated a little. If you think the 1930s look from the serial is dated just wait till you see how badly the 70s has aged. I loved this version as a kid, it was fun and is still worth a watch. The movie kept the 1930s style for planet Mongo right down to cool gold art deco spaceships, but the music is pure classic Queen.