“You were who we made this for!” Kevin Smith excitedly told me during our interview about Netflix’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation, right after I revealed I was a huge He-Man fan. He was not lying. The new series was clearly made for me and the other ‘80s kids. Those who grew up playing with Masters of the Universe action figures and watching the accompanying cartoon, yelling “I… have… the power!” every time Prince Adam raised his sword and spoke those magic words. I just don’t know if Revelation was made for anybody else—and I’m also not sure that it matters?
If you’re not a He-Man fan, I have no idea what you’ll think of Masters of the Universe: Revelation. I don’t know what you’ll get out of it, or if you’d get anything at all. The show has been touted as a sequel to the classic cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which means there’s very little on-ramp for new viewers to get into the franchise. Admittedly, it’s not a difficult premise to wrap your head around because Revelation is extremely devoted to the original series—which was made for kids. In fact, the first episode feels like it could be from the ‘80s series, just with infinitely better art, animation, and music.
This is also what’s so remarkable about Revelation. Smith has made an updated version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe for adult fans that somehow still feels like it has the DNA of the campy, childish ‘80s cartoon in there. The floating blue wizard Orko (voiced by Griffin Newman) is still a nitwit. Prince Adam’s cat Cringer (Stephen Root) is still a coward. Bad guys still miraculously jump out of vehicles just before they crash or explode. The “adult” part of Revelation comes late in the first episode when Smith introduces something that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon never, even had: stakes.
Like virtually all kids cartoons in the ‘80s (the most notable exception being Robotech), He-Man and his pals defeated whatever hare-brained scheme Skeletor and his minions were pulling to get the massive, ill-defined powers inside Castle Grayskull, and the series reset. Nothing carried over, minus a few two-parters. Nothing ever changed. But after He-Man (Chris Wood) thwarts Skeletor’s (Mark Hamill) latest attempt to seize power in Revelation, something changes—something irrevocable that sets the world of Eternia spinning in an entirely new direction from the original cartoon, and the show’s story keeps building from there. Beloved characters make decisions that would have once been unthinkable. Relationships fray. The lines between the forces of good and evil blur. And despite all this, Revelation still manages to hold true to its roots.
The fact that Smith has managed to make a series where MotU characters can experience actual depth and development while Orko can still be buffoonish comic relief is, frankly, remarkable. I honestly didn’t think it was possible when the show was first announced, but I’m incredibly happy to have been so wrong. Honestly, I’m still sort of boggled how well Smith managed to stay true to the original series while telling a cohesive, compelling story about He-Man. Not to keep harping on Orko, but there’s a fantastic scene where the unfunniest part of the ‘80s cartoon displays actual pathos, and it’s absolutely gripping—at least if you’ve had some sort of feelings about Orko prior to watching Revelation.
This isn’t the only paradoxical feat the show accomplishes. It is, from top to bottom, clearly made for older He-Man fans, full of those sorts of scenes that we always wished the original series had gotten to, especially in terms of characters or toys we never got to see on-screen. Prince Adam is finally depicted as a younger kid instead of just a less-tan clone of He-Man. The confusing “evil ghost of Skeletor,” Scare Glow, gets a nifty explanation. The history of Castle Grayskull gets explored more than it ever did in the ‘80s. However, some of these changes take the story to some places that will likely bewilder some of these fans. I don’t mean the fact that some jackasses will inevitably decry the prominence of He-Man’s ally and one of the original series’ few female characters, Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and (basically) new character Andra (Tiffany Smith), but rather some truly unexpected developments that can’t be discussed without spoiling them. Suffice to say, clock this official promotional image:
This is not a group of characters that would have been hanging around with each other in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and yet in Revelation, there’s very much a reason Teela is with Skeletor’s minions Beast Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Evil-Lyn (Lena Headey’s character, rocking that great new ‘do)—and it has nothing to do with fan service. It would have been incredibly easy for Smith and the Revelation crew to just coast by giving fans some cool action scenes and making sure every action figure got his or her time to shine on-screen. Instead, the show goes into some truly unexpected directions (let’s just say the first five episodes we viewed end on quite a cliffhanger). Not all of these decisions pan out to something meaningful, and I imagine some fans won’t care for them, but Revelation is a better and much more interesting show for doing more than merely going through a checklist of fan service, although there’s still plenty of it to go around.
If you’re a He-Man fan, there’s far more to like about Masters of the Universe: Revelation than there is to dislike. It’s not perfect, but Kevin Smith has pulled off a remarkable tightrope act of making a sequel to a show that never had serialized storytelling, a series that somehow keeps the framework of a cartoon made for eight-year-olds while building a story designed for middle-aged nerds who still have the original Castle Grayskull playset hanging around in their garage, attic, or living room. If you’re one of those people, Revelation was literally made for you (and me). Everybody else…maybe go rewatch Loki?
The first five episodes of Masters of the Universe: Revelation—which also features the voices of Liam Cunningham, Diedrich Bader, Alicia Silverstone, Susan Eisenberg, Kevin Conroy, Phil LaMarr, Henry Rollins, Tony Todd, and more—premieres on Netflix on July 23. It also includes writing by Eric Carrasco, Tim Sheridan, Diya Mishra, and io9 alum Marc Bernardin.
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