As a child of the ‘80s, I grew up watching legendary cartoon shows like The Transformers, G.I. Joe, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. These foundational series rocked my world when I was a nine-year-old kid, but my feelings changed once I got older.
It’s not that I’m too old to watch cartoons; I’ll ride for Adventure Time and Batman: TAS any day! Adult Victor sees these shows through clear eyes. The sad truth is that most of these childhood classics aren’t good at all. During the ‘80s, TV cartoons were often 22-minute toy commercials disguised as kids’ entertainment. Don’t believe me? The basic animation, poor writing, and by-the-numbers plots speak for themselves. Nowadays, these beloved shows don’t offer adult viewers much aside from a quick hot of nostalgia.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation puts some respect back on the series’ hallowed name. Writer-director Kevin Smith’s animated Netflix show recreates the Masters of the Universe series not as it existed but as it’s remembered in fans’ hearts and minds. This action-packed show delivers gorgeous visuals, furious battles, and earnest writing sure to please both newbies and long-time fans.
Revelation picks up where the ‘80s series left off. An evil sorcerer named Skeletor (Mark Hamill) is hellbent on taking over a planet called Eternia. Aided by an army of monstrous goons, he overthrows Castle Grayskull, the nexus of all magic in the universe. The only thing standing in Skeletor’s way is Prince Adam’s (Chris Wood) superpowered alter-ego, He-Man – the most powerful man in the universe.
In episode one, Skeletor’s plan to infiltrate Castle Grayskull actually works. He-Man thwarts Skeletor’s attack (natch), but his victory comes at a great cost, zapping him and Skeletor away while cutting off the universe’s supply of magic.
Jump ahead a few years, and Eternia is dying a slow death. With the planet’s magic now waning, its heroes have gone their separate ways while Skeletor’s minions rove the land wreaking havoc. It falls on He-Man’s trusted ally Teela (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to restore order to the world. There’s one huge problem, though; He-Man betrayed Teela’s trust by withholding his secret identity, and now she holds a grudge against her old friends. Teela reluctantly teams up with her former allies (and a couple rivals) to bring magic back to Eternia.
The thing that stands out about Revelation is how seriously Smith takes the source material. This franchise was created to peddle toys and not much else. Yet, Smith finds the humanity in what were once silly, one-dimensional characters. Smith pulls off an impressive feat since he isn’t drawing from a complex, thematically rich text like Watchmen. Instead, we’re talking about a toy line featuring an elephant man who fires water from his trunk named Snout Spout.
Revelation allows both heroes and villains to reveal aspects of their psyches only alluded to in the original series. The improved writing and deeper characters should keep older viewers engaged beyond the show’s nostalgic appeal.
The first five episodes dive into adult themes like grief, loss, and codependency. These storytelling choices help elevate the material beyond the scope of most Saturday morning kids’ shows – Revelation is prime time, baby! It’s the difference between experiencing the happy-go-lucky world of Saved by the Bell and the angsty teen drama in Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Revelation looks gorgeous and establishes an eerie sci-fi/fantasy vibe that evokes Mad Max: Fury Road and Lord of the Rings. I’m looking forward to future episodes exploring Eternia’s every nook and cranny. Many of the planet’s strange locales look ripped from a heavy metal album cover.
Revelation stays true to the characters’ classic looks, updating them only slightly. Prince Adam still rocks the purple tights, while He-Man looks like a Conan the Barbarian cosplayer. Most of the characters are still impossibly jacked, including Teela, who now looks like she could be the WWE women’s champion. Some vehicles are spot-on recreations of the He-Man toys I played with as a child. I love when a reboot isn’t afraid to bring back kitschy design choices from past decades.
Although Revelation drops plenty of nods and winks to He-Man mythology, the writing isn’t slavishly devoted to the original program. Smith could have gone the J.J. Abrams route (a la The Force Awakens) and retread the original program beat for beat. Instead, this show makes fearless storytelling choices that would have got some forward-thinking studio exec fired in 1983.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation Part 1 is Teela’s story. You feel He-Man’s presence throughout each episode, but he’s not the story’s protagonist. Old-school fans might be upset that this isn’t the He-Man program they remember. But “them’s the breaks.” Time moves on, and Revelation reflects the world today.
Netflix only made the first five episodes available to the press, so the story may shift its focus back onto He-Man. But even if it doesn’t, I’m loving this show in its present form. This action-packed animated adventure delivers shocking twists and turns while re-establishing its heroes and villains with more nuance, texture, and compassion.
Revelation is far and away the superior Masters of the Universe program.