Before watching the movie:
This is a movie based on a set of toys designed by adults trying to come up with what kind of story would feel most empowering to five year old boys in the 80s. That is the standard it should be held to.
I’m not directly familiar with the Masters of the Universe franchise. I mostly know it through osmosis, but apparently Eternia being a planet distinct from Earth is not a concept unique to this movie. I always considered MOTU a pure fantasy setting, but it seems to take whatever elements make exciting stories, and again, the core concept is for five year olds, so the mashup isn’t inappropriate. I’m still not fully comfortable with Skeletor being a spacefaring warlord subsuming planets into his empire, but this can’t go as poorly as Highlander 2 did.
After watching the movie:
Eternia has been conquered by Skeletor, who sits on the throne at Castle Grayskull, holding the Sorceress of Greyskull prisoner as he siphons her magic and waits for the next moonrise to completely absorb her power. All that remains of the Eternian defenders are He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Teela. They encounter Gwildor, a talented locksmith who invented the Cosmic Key, a device that uses cosmic resonance to open portals to anywhere in the universe, which is what allowed Skeletor to penetrate Castle Greyskull. He-Man and his allies attempt to use the prototype Cosmic Key to free the Sorceress, but Skeletor catches them and they open a portal to any random location that isn’t surrounded by Skeletor’s army. Which turns out to be New Jersey, late 1980s. Where they promptly lose the Cosmic Key, and it is found by high schoolers Julie and Kevin, who mistake it for a synthesizer. While experimenting with it, they inadvertently alert Skeletor’s forces to where the Cosmic Key is, and therefore, where He-Man is.
I have to say, I was expecting to find this best enjoyed ironically, but surprisingly, it all works and nothing is all that campy. It doesn’t seem much like the recognizable He-Man mythos, and setting the one shot at a big-budget movie on Earth seems like a bad idea on paper (I’d rather see an Eternian adventure), they don’t clash like one might expect. There’s no fish out of water element, nobody from the Eternian realm does much marveling at what Earth is like, they’re just on Earth now, and everybody’s got more important matters to attend to than gawking.
The crossing of worlds ends up being so mundane that the movie drags a little in places. Fight scenes go on for longer than keep my interest, and the inclusion of the henchmen Evil-Lyn sends at first who are unsuccessful falls flat for someone who isn’t familiar with the lore. The police detective who gets swept up in everything is a more interesting antagonist than them, which I would probably say even if the actor didn’t have a small part in Back to the Future.
As an adventure film with ray guns, magic, swords, and oiled pecs, this could have been painfully cheesy, but it’s surprisingly levelheaded and the “kids” from Earth are even compelling themselves. The movie doesn’t go over the top in camp or in gritty realism, it just tries to be an enjoyable story, and it finds a tone that, given the source material, actually works for live action.
I love this movie and remember seeing it as a very young kid that absolutely bought into the he man toy series.