[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Masters of the Universe: Revelation.]
A problem with rebooting or reviving or franchises is that they have to appeal to both fans of the original while welcoming newcomers, but end up being either too inaccessible or a watered-down version of the original. It now seems rather obvious that the one show to stand above the cash cow that is the age of the “legacyquel” would be based on a cash cow of a TV show meant exclusively to sell toys. Thankfully, Masters of the Universe: Revelation not only justifies its existence, but that of the concept of a legacyquel.
The first episode of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, aptly titled The Power of Grayskull, feels like a classic ’80s cartoon, throwing us right in the middle of yet another battle between the forces of good and evil at Castle Grayskull. We meet all the classic characters, get the classic one-liners, and another classic fight between He-Man (Chris Wood) and Skeletor (a deliciously evil Mark Hamill). But suddenly creator Kevin Smith introduces the show’s secret weapon — consequences. Suddenly, this is not just another battle that gets reset by the start of the next episode, but one that defies the very essence of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe and turns its universe upside down. Suddenly, fan-favorite characters can die, things can go wrong, people can feel complex emotions, and the world of Eternia is truly, actually at the brink of destruction.
Revelation‘s second boldest choice is not focusing on He-Man, but on Teela (the always wonderful Sarah Michelle Gellar), who takes center stage as a battle-scarred warrior tired of being tasked with saving the world. Of course, it doesn’t take very long for Teela to answer the latest call to action, and the end of the world is reason enough to bring about an uneasy alliance between old foes who embark on an epic odyssey to return magic to the world.
Revelation fully caters to fans of the original ’80s cartoon, if only because it drops the audience at the tail-end of a story with little to no context, acting as if no time had passed between the original show and this one, with constant references and cameos. This may be a problem to those who, like me, have no prior knowledge or connection to Masters of the Universe, but the writing is strong enough to realize that they can use the established bond between the characters and how much they care for each other to have the audience care about them too.
Take Orko (Griffin Newman), for instance. Even if you haven’t watched over a hundred episodes of the floating blue-skinned trollan being a clumsy idiot, the way Revelation shows the other characters react to Orko’s foolishness tells you what you need to know. Then the show slowly recontextualizes Orko and gives him something few ’80s cartoons had — pathos. Rather than just comic relief, the wizard now suffers from self-loathing and imposter syndrome.
Sadly, not all characters get the same treatment. Though Teela and Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey) get complex character arcs and motivations that touch on grief, loss, and sacrifice, the rest of the cast is mostly comprised of onedimensional characters without much to do but remind longtime fans of their action figures.
Revelation may update the story of Masters of the Universe and its sensibilities, but it perfectly captures the whimsy and episodic nature of the original. The five episodes that comprise Part 1 (with Part 2 coming at a later date) feel like an old action-adventure serial: Despite an overarching plot connecting the individual episodes, they still work as self-contained stories free to explore weird and varied tones and subjects. We are as likely to see the titular Masters of the Universe fight a bunch of pirates as we are to see them fight a sci-fi techno-cult, or even go to literal hell, and it works because the show plays each of these with equal gravitas and importance, giving the impression that all these weird stories truly belong in the same world. Then there’s Bear McCreary‘s grandiose operatic score, which gives Revelation a big screen serial sound while capturing the high-fantasy adventure of the ’80s.
Of course, this being based on a show meant to sell toys, Masters of the Universe: Revelation at times risks falling into The Mandalorian territory and serve as a commercial for your childhood memories. It doesn’t take much knowledge of the original show to recognize that most of the set pieces are based on toy sets. Thankfully, Powerhouse Animation Studios makes the action scenes exciting yet distinct from one another, resulting in kinetic, exciting fight scenes and an art style that mixes Frank Frazetta with Conan the Barbarian.
It may take a little while to fully get into what Masters of the Universe: Revelation is doing if you are not already familiar with the franchise. But whether you’re a longtime fan or just hungry for a unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy, this show offers an exhilarating adventure that justifies the era of the legacyquel, while proving itself a necessary and essential part of the Masters of the Universe mythos.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
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