Masters of the Universe: Revelation is yet another attempt at remaking a popular 80s cartoon in an attempt to capture both today’s children and their 40 something aged parents who grew up on it. Recently we’ve Voltron, She-Ra, and the most recent Transformers Netflix series (see what I thought about that here and here). And unfortunately there were less successful endeavors like the Thundercats reboot from 2011. This isn’t the first time a new version of MOTU has been rolled out; there was a run in 2002 that lasted two seasons.
This one is helmed by Kevin Smith of Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob fame, who has been one of the visible voices on all things in nerd culture for some years now. And Kevin took things in a much different direction than the previous iterations. This one leads off with the proverbial final confrontation between He-Man and Skeletor that leaves both presumed dead and thus reveals He-Man’s secret identity, which in turns causes his two closest allies, Man-at-Arms and Teela, to go off on divergent paths. The former is stripped of his rank and banished by the King and the later chooses to walk away from it all in disgust.
As tends to happen trouble comes coming around again and Teela, now working as a vigilante of sorts alongside her partner Andra, is drawn back into the mission to save the planet and with help from Skeletor’s former associate Evil-Lynn, go to put the band back together. This includes pulling He-Man himself back from the afterlife. Along the way we learn a lot about everyone on the trip and how they got to where they are at that point.
The cast is an All Star roster of voice actors and actresses from Mark Hamill as Skeletor, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela, Lena Headley as Evil-Lynn and Kevin Conroy as Mer-Man. The irony of the former Batman and Joker (Conroy and Hamill) playing on the same team is not lost, and I can guarantee that it was a Kevin Smith idea to do so. Other voice acting stalwarts like Phil Lamarr, Cree Summer, Susan Eisenberg were also on board along with longtime Smith collaborator Jason Mewes.
Having an actual story seems like a bare minimum requirement but given that the original series was about as deep as a kiddie pool you can’t just look past it. The animation was good, too, the right style for a more serious story that is aimed at 40 year olds as much as kids. Character depth was a plus here, too. The cool thing about emphasizing what were previously supporting characters is that you get a chance to go in less cut and dried directions to flesh them out. Teela, Evil-Lyn, and even Orko got more meat added to them here than in entire run of the old series.
The same can be said for the world of Eternia itself. We got actual explanations for Castle Greyskull and the previous generations of heroes that were sworn to defend it. Again, if you’re aiming for some adult viewers then you need some of that in the series. A strictly for kids reboot minus any of that would get dropped by anyone over the age of 13 after one or two episodes.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! Skip down to the next part if you haven’t watched it yet.
So you do this completely unexpected storyline that gives some heart to Evil-Lynn and some nuance to her loyalty to Skeletor, set her up to be her own woman going forward, and as soon as Skeletor is back she just throws her hands up and says ‘ok, back to how things were?’ No internal struggle, no blackmail of sorts, no nothing? That literally undid all the work done in episodes 2 through 4 in a matter of seconds. And it wasn’t a ‘she was lying all along’ type of deal, either. That just left me really irritated.
The entire direction they went in was a bold choice. Presumably killing off He-Man in the first episode and centering everything on Teela and others was totally unexpected and set off some internet bros who didn’t think they’d have to sit through a series led by a girl, oh no! But once you calm down and realize that of course He-Man isn’t going to stay dead then it’s fine! Five episodes of standard He-Man vs Skeletor fare, even with a more serious tone, would have gotten old after episode two.
And let’s be real, the original series was a half hour toy commercial just like damn near every other 80s cartoon. Each episode was an after-school special set on a fictional planet with magic and such. Any story they did here was going to be a major departure from that so to act as if there has been some sacred timeline that was defiled is a joke. Some guy had the audacity to say that Moss Man – Moss Man! – had been disrespected in this series. Man, if you don’t get the F outta here with that….
That being said, yes this was not a happy joy joy kind of story arc so if that’s not your bag then it’s cool. The whole deconstruction of characters and worlds is not for everyone, and it usually depends on how near and dear the version you grew up with is to you. I’ve found that the deconstruction approach often goes over great with people who aren’t as wed to the characters and lore that were already there, but tanks with those who are.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Overall quality 4/6 (good), Enjoyability 3/4
It all comes down to how you take to the story being told. If you’re on board then this is probably more like 8 or 9 out of 10 for you. If not, then I still think it’s well done enough to call it a 7. I was 50/50 on the story direction choice. I had no quarrel with focusing on Teela and Evil-Lynn but at the same time this felt more like a second act kind of arc than what you open up with. Judged on its own I do think it was very good, and I recommend it whether you’re a fan of the old series or not.