Masters of the Universe: Revelation is one of the latest products of the nostalgia reboot craze that has our culture in a choke-hold, and, like many of these love-letters to past media, it has quickly become a polarising addition to the He-Man universe. Despite positive critical reception, Revelation has divided fans, many of whom feel at best tricked by the series’ trailers and advertising and at worst have accused the show of being too diverse, as it focuses primarily on female and/or non-white characters. However, panning a show because it failed to live up to fans’ self-set, impossibly high nostalgic expectations is hardly good criticism (even if it seems to be the internet’s favourite form). So, the question remains: is Revelation worth it?
Revelation is a direct sequel to the 1983 American cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The show takes place on the mythical planet of Eternia. The planet is protected by Prince Adam, who uses the Sword of Power to call upon the Power of Greyskull and transform into He-Man, a hyper-muscular alter ego who defends the planet from the evil Skeletor, a dark sorcerer who seeks to rule the universe. He-Man is aided by his friends, Battle Cat, The Sorceress, Teela, Man-at-Arms, and Orko. Together they throw bad guys off cliffs and fight off their enemy until Skeletor chatter laughs and somersaults away. The original run lasted from 1983-1985 and is remembered largely for clunky animation and YouTube memes.
Revelation begins with a celebration: Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been appointed the new Man-At-Arms, and a ceremony is underway at castle Grayskull. However, the festivities are soon interrupted by an invasion headed by Skeletor (Mark Hamill, who is having a GREAT time) and Evil Lyn (Lena Headey). In a disastrous battle, both He-Man and Skeletor are seemingly killed when the orb of magic explodes and the Sword of Power splits after being used as a conduit. This explosion threatens Eternia’s supply of magic, potentially ending all life in the universe. Faced with this new threat, the show’s secondary characters must band together in their leaders’ absences, working together to reforge the Sword of Power and return magic to Eternia.
One of Revelation’s larger critiques is that it bait-and-switched the audience — instead of focusing on He-Man, the show is instead concerned with the back-ground characters, specifically Teela. However, this actually makes for more interesting storytelling. He-Man, for all his muscles, is not a very interesting character, seemingly only motivated by the vague desire to do good. Teela is more complicated, and some of the more effective (and well animated) parts of the series deals with her confronting the complexities of her grief. Additionally, it is interesting to see how these characters interact with each other, especially their enemies, in their leaders’ absences. The decision to kill off the main characters in the first episode and make the series essentially about how Eternia’s B-Team is going to save the day, is an interesting concept. Also, it should go without saying, but the animation is much, much, much better than the original. Even though I spent the majority of my viewing referring to the show as “Silent Bob’s Anime Series”, I’m grateful the showrunners chose this new art style over attempting to recapture the endearing clumsiness of the original. The characters look incredible, and even He-Man’s dumb pageboy haircut doesn’t look as silly.
In fact, my issues with the show have nothing to do with the plot or art style so much as they do with the tone. Despite its beginnings as a children’s cartoon, executive producer and my nemesis, Kevin Smith, specifically pitched Revelation as a show for He-Man’s adult fans. Mattel’s Vice-President of Creative Content, Rob David, and Netflix’s director of original series, Ted Biaselli, imagined updating the show for an older, nostalgic audience, incorporating more violence and even some light swearing — and I think this is where the show lost me. Instead of fully leaning into more adult content, the show grounds itself in a strange place between the original He-Man’s silly, childish dialogue and morals and Revelation’s more grown up visuals. Teela’s main conflict comes off as a sort of childish pouting that doesn’t really get examined in any depth until the fifth episode. The jokes and dialogue are, at times, cheesy and simplistic — the first time Prince Adam says “I have the power” I nearly tossed my computer — a weird juxtaposition to an art style and level of violence that seems aimed at an older audience. It tries to incorporate a more sophisticated style of children’s narrative while also sprinkling some more mature content in. However, instead of achieving what I imagine the producers considered to be a smart blend of nostalgia and contemporary style, it instead feels a bit confused. A children’s show trying to appeal to an older audience, but too afraid to write their characters as adults.
So, overall, I would say Revelation is, in my highly professional opinion, “pretty okay”. The animation is fluid, the fight sequences are engaging, and the fifth episode ends with a moment that genuinely made me gasp. While many lament the plot for not living up to fan expectations, many of the narrative choices were actually risks that paid off within the context of the story the show is trying to tell. It may suffer from a tone problem — it’s strange to hear cartoons swear and then showcase the emotional intelligence of children — but overall, if you’re a science fiction fantasy fan, or just like some good corporate nostalgia, it’s worth a watch.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation is now streaming exclusively on Netflix
by Hannah Granberry