Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations released on Netflix this past week. The stills looked promising. Now is a good time to see if the series lives up to the promise.
The review of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power delved into the history of the origins of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, focusing on the spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power. Both series were based on Mattel’s line of action figures, where the real differences were in the colours and head mold. Filmation picked up the license for both animated series.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe first aired in 1983, two years after the first figure in Mattel’s Masters of the Universe line was released. The series ran for two 65-episode, allowing for twenty-six weeks of second-run syndication without repeat an episode. The characters included Prince Adam, who turned into He-Man; Adam’s pet Cringer, who transforms into Battle Cat; Man-At-Arms, the commander of Eternia’s army; Teela, Captain of the Royal Guard; Orko, bumbling mage and He-Man’s sidekick; and the Sorceress, the guardian of Castle Greyskull. Opposing the heroes are Skeletor, who wants to discover the secrets of Castle Greyskull in order to rule the universe; Evil-Lyn, an evil sorceress; Beast Man; and a number of minor villains, including the three-eyed Tri-Klops. Each character, good or evil, had a schtick of their own.
The series was episodic, with Skeletor enacting a new evil plot forcing the heroes to thwart the villains. Prince Adam would keep his dual life a secret, disappearing when trouble starts to transform into He-Man. Brains and brawn tended to be needed to stop Skeletor. By the end of the episode, the day is saved, Skeletor and his henchmen are on the run, and the status remains quo. That was the nature of television at the time. A permanent end wasn’t possible; that would end the series. Villains couldn’t triumph, especially in children’s programming, so they had to lose every episode. A major victory by a villain would mean a change in the tone of the series.
When the series came to an end, the fate of Eternia was still undecided. He-Man would keep battling Skeletor in second-run syndication. A reboot of the series was made in 2002, but still left things unresolved. Enter Kevin Smith, creator of films such as Clerks and Dogma. Smith is of the age to have watched the original cartoon first run. With Netflix, he produced the sequel series, Masters of the Universe: Revelations to wrap up the war for Eternia. The cast of the new series includes Chris Wood as Prince Adam and He-Man, Sarah Michelle Geller as Teela, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, Griffin Newman as Orko, Kevin Michael Richardson as Beast-Man, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor.
The first season starts with a new Man-at-Arms being announced; Teela is stepping up as her adopted father, Man-At-Arms, retires. The celebration is cut short, though. Skeletor has tried another gambit to get inside Castle Greyskull, one that works. The heroes head off to battle. The fight, though, ends in an unusual way – both He-Man and Skeletor disappear and the magic protecting Castle Greyskull is all but destroyed. In the aftermath, Prince Adam’s secret is revealed, the Sword of Power is split in twains, and trusts are broken. Teela leaves the Royal Guard and becomes a mercenary, travelling with Andra (Tiffany Smith). A few unusual jobs for an elderly woman, though, brings the past back into her life. The job leads to working with Evil-Lyn, pulling some of the heroes back, and discovering what happened to both He-Man and Skeletor.
The focus of the series is on Teela. She is the one driving the plot as she tries to recover the magic of Eternia before the world and the universe are doomed. Teela is the one to keep the unlikely band of adventurers on the right track. However, the truce rests uneasy. After all, the word “evil” is baked into Evil-Lyn’s name. He-Man appears in flashbacks, being his charming, goofy self. However, the story does revolve around He-Man.
The cast of the new series is top notch. Mark Hamill is more than happy to chew the scenery as Skeletor, and when he’s not there, Lena Headey matches him. The characters reflect who they were in the original cartoon, but are given depth that wasn’t possible in the 80s. Much like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the new Masters is able to take the comic relief and give them more depth, making them sympathetic. The writing is tight; there is nothing wasted in the five episodes of the first season. Smith is aiming for fans like himself, people who grew up with the series when it first aired. While Eternia is bleaker, Smith doesn’t wallow in grimdark. There is still hope thanks to the heroes.
The production value of the new series shines. While the characters are based on their original appearances, the animation is far smoother and not recycled. Prince Adam’s transformation to He-Man is far more involved, with influences from magical girls series like Sailor Moon. This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s been forty years; time for He-Man to have a proper transformation. The new Masters shows what having a larger per-episode budget can do.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations achieves what it set out to do, to provide an ending to the original series. The characters are recognizable from what they were and are given arcs for growth. The series takes chances, and they pay off. The new Masters isn’t a reboot, it’s a sequel, and after forty years, manages to update the franchise while still managing to keep to its roots.
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