TV Show Title: Masters of the Universe: Revelation
Release Date: June 24, 2021 (Part 1) TBC (Part 2)
Studio: Powerhouse Animation studios/Mattel Television
Release Format: Netflix
One often wonders whether Kevin Smith pinches himself sometimes to check he’s living in reality. In 1993, as a 23-year-old movie store clerk, Smith scraped together funds to make his first feature film by selling his comic collection, maxing out his credit cards, a portion of his college fund, and car insurance money. Despite a low budget of $27,000, the film was a success and launched his career. 27 years later, Kevin Smith is 50 years old, helming a reboot to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s a triumphant rags-to-riches story much unlike the one told in his new animated series, the first five episodes of which are now available on Netflix.
He-Man is Back…Sort Of
Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a sequel to the original 1983 cartoon (millennials and Gen Z know it mainly for the infamous meme where He-Man sings ‘What’s Up’ by the 4 Non-Blondes). But this time, the source material is given a mature update – like something Adi Shankar would produce, only with less gore and swearing.
The set-up is thus; Both He-Man and Skeletor (voiced by the unmatchable Mark Hamill) seemingly perish in a battle over the hidden powers of Castle Greyskull. Afterwards, newly-ordained ‘Man-At-Arms,’ Teela learns that He-Man and Prince Adam were, in fact, the same. This information is also fresh to Adam’s father, the King of Eternia, who banishes the original Man-At-Arms – Teela’s Dad, Duncan – from his kingdom for keeping the earth-shattering secret from him. Teela, however, quits servitude herself, not only upset by Adam’s demise but also disgusted that her father and Eternia’s Queen would willingly keep his dual identity secret from her for so long.
Time rolls on, and Teela now works independently as a mercenary alongside franchise newcomer Andra. However, fate conspires to reunite Teela with her former allies – and even former adversaries – when the magic that holds Eternia together is at stake. To save the world, they must reforge the Power Sword, whose halves are hidden in the Land of Preternia and Subternia (Eternia’s versions of Heaven and Hell, respectively).
A Masters of the Universe Character Study
The plot is nothing to shout home about, but in this case, it’s serviceable. Masters of the Universe: Revelations is more of a characters study of Teela and her allies than anything else. In the original show, the characters are about as two-dimensional as their animation. Here, this oft-neglected supporting cast is finally given the spotlight – and it works.
Teela, voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is a compelling character. Her best friend dead and having been deceived for so long regarding his dual identity, Teela feels alienated from the kingdom she once fought for. Yet, despite having an obvious chip on her shoulder, Teela is likeable and strong. Even her new friend, Andra, while not as developed as the rest of the cast, is a likeable, humorous personality, her vibrancy a foil for Teela’s brooding nature.
But Teela is just one example of how Masters of the Universe: Revelations adds depth to previously cardboard cut-out characters. Evil-Lyn and Orka are two golden examples. Orka has an inferiority complex, feeling like a disappointment to his race – while Evil-Lyn feels foolish for loving Skeletor despite the fact it was never reciprocated. Orka’s insecurities are especially potent when he makes a huge sacrifice to allow his friends to escape Subternia. It’s writing like this that helps us identify better with the characters.
Not the He-Man You Remember
So, we’ve been talking about these characters receiving depth. But where does He-Man himself factor into things? He’s the large elephant in the room whose absence is being talked about more than any part of the series. Well, let’s put it this way – He-Man’s omission from the series title isn’t an accidental oversight. As already stated, He-Man dies in the first episode, making occasional flashback cameos through the series and Episode 5 before he…well, watch for yourself.
Nostalgic fans hoping to see He-Man Save The Day Again are likely to be disappointed. While the source material is treated respectfully, it’s evident Kevin Smith and co. are not retreading the ground of the original series. Rather, due to the reboot’s adult-oriented nature, they explore darker, emotionally impactive stories. And in these stories, the heroes don’t always win – sometimes, the villains do. This is best exemplified in the conclusion of Episode 5, showing us that the writing team is wanting to subvert audience expectations.
That said, if you can live with He-Man’s limited presence, Kevin Smith’s new show has a lot to offer you. Aside from the commendable character development already mentioned, the animation is beautiful. The animation team behind the series was inspired by Japanese anime, and it’s plain to see. Fight sequences are fast, flowing, and fun to watch. Meanwhile, the character designs are mature and detailed, faithful to the 80’s cartoon while adding new touches.
And where characters are concerned, you’ve also got to hand it to the voice actors here. The script of Revelation is obviously more emotion-geared than the 80’s show, and the cast gives it that extra “oomph.” Gellar adds layers of complexity to Teela, from her doubts and fears all the way to her snarky attitude. Lena Headley, no stranger to playing complex villainesses, is impressive in her turn as Evil-Lyn. And no matter where you stand on He-Man, you’ve got to love Chris Wood’s vocal tribute to the masculine hero – and Mark Hamill as Skeletor. I needn’t say any more than he kills it, just as you’d expect.
The Beginning of the End
Overall then, Kevin Smith and Co.’s reboot-sequel to the He-Man canon is well worth your time. It gives us developed characters we care about while delivering the animated fighting goods. Rather than retread familiar ground, the showrunners try to give us new material that subverts our expectations and delivers something fresh.
That said, it isn’t perfect. Again, the show (so far) substitutes the plot for character study. The stakes are high, and you do feel a sense of threat, but it’s not revolutionary storytelling. Andra could also be given more development in future episodes. Yes, she’s meant to be the audience surrogate, but she acts as little more than a quippy tagalong for most of the five episodes. Yet, these quibbles aside, these are a solid five episodes – and I look forward to seeing how Kevin Smith’s series continues the legacy of He-Man.
Verdict: Kevin Smith’s Masters of the Universe: Revelation is by no means a perfect nostalgia trip but offers a refreshing take on its source material that leaves you waiting anxiously for Part 2.